From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

SkySat is a constellation of sub-meter resolution Earth observation satellites owned by Planet Labs, providing imagery, high-definition video and analytics services.[1][2] Planet acquired the satellites with their purchase of Terra Bella (formerly Skybox Imaging), a Mountain View, California-based company founded in 2009 by Dan Berkenstock, Julian Mann, John Fenwick, and Ching-Yu Hu,[3] from Google in 2017.[4]


SkySat image of Apple Park taken in May 2017

The resolution of the SkySat satellite imagery and videos is high enough to observe objects that impact the global economy such as terrain, cars and shipping containers. The satellites can capture video clips lasting up to 90 seconds at 30 frames per second.[5] The high-definition satellite video from SkySat satellites “could help us understand our world better by analyzing movement of goods and people, providing visual data about supply chains, shipping, industrial plant activity, and even humanitarian relief efforts.”[5]

SkySat off-nadir image of Fitz Roy

The constellation's goal is to be able to provide high-resolution satellite imagery of any place on Earth multiple times a day.[6] When Skybox originally delevoped the satellites, they planned to "change the nature" of the satellite industry by building satellites with "off-the-shelf" electronics that cost under $50 million.[7]

Satellite constellation[edit]

The SkySat satellites are based on the CubeSat concept, using inexpensive automotive grade electronics and fast commercially available processors,[8], but scaled up to approximately the size of a minifridge.[9] The satellites are approximately 80cm long, compared to approximately 30cm for a 3U CubeSat, and weigh 220lbs.[9]

The first two prototype satellites (SkySat 1,2) were produced by Skybox Imaging in-house. They did not have a propulsion system.[10]

The other 13 satellites are manufactured by SSL,[11] the optical payloads are built by L3 Technologies,[12][13] and the satellite thrusters are provided by ECAPS.[14] The 13 SkySat-C satellites are slightly larger and heavier (with mass about 120kg) than the prototypes. They have a planned operational life of 6 years.[15]

There have been 15 satellites launched:

The SkySat-C satellites were put on a 500km SSO orbit.[15]


By April 2012, Skybox Imaging had raised a total of US$91 million of private capital from Khosla Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners, Canaan Partners and Norwest Venture Partners to develop the SkySat constellation.[6]

On November 21, 2013, the first satellite, SkySat-1, was launched on a Dnepr rocket from Dombarovsky Air Base, Russia.[16] Less than a month later, on December 11, 2013, the first images captured by the SkySat-1 satellite, of Perth, Abu Dhabi, and the coast of Somalia, were released.[17] The second satellite, SkySat-2, launched on a Soyuz-2/Fregat rocket from Baikonur, Kazakhstan on July 8, 2014.[18] The company plans to eventually launch a fleet of 24 satellites.[19] and released its first images within 48 hours of launch.[20]

On February 10, 2014, SSL announced that Skybox had awarded it a contract to build 13 more satellites based on a revised "SkySat C" design.[21][22] The first of these, Skysat-3, also referred to as SkySat-C1, was launched on June 22, 2016 by ISRO on PSLV flight C34,[23][24] with contract for four more satellites to launch.[25][failed verification]

On June 10, 2014, Skybox Imaging announced that it had entered into an agreement to be acquired by Google for US$500 million.[26][27] The acquisition was completed on August 1, 2014.[27][4] Skybox Imaging changed its name to "Terra Bella" on March 8, 2016, to indicate its focus on image analytics.[28] The new name was partially based on the Terra Bella Ave. in Mountain View, California, where the company's headquarters are located.[29] Terra bella is Italian for "beautiful earth".

Four more SkySat units were launched on September 16, 2016, by the Vega rocket's seventh flight from Kourou.[30]

In 2017, Google sold Terra Bella and its SkySat satellite constellation to Planet Labs for an undisclosed price and entered into a multi-year agreement to purchase SkySat imaging data.[31] Planet launched six more SkySat satellites, along with four Dove CubeSats, on a Minotaur-C rocket from Vandenberg AFB on October 31, 2017.[32][13] An additional two SkySat satellites and three Dove CubeSats were launched on a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg on December 3, 2018.[33][34]


  1. ^ "Ten things you must know about Isro's record launch of 20 satellites". 2016-06-21. Retrieved 2018-06-05. External link in |work= (help)
  2. ^ "Terra Bella Officially Joins Planet". Retrieved 18 April 2017.
  3. ^ Perry, Tekla S. (1 May 2013). "Start-up Profile: Skybox Imaging". IEEE Spectrum. Retrieved 12 May 2014.
  4. ^ a b Henry, Caleb (2014-08-05). "Google Closes Skybox Imaging Purchase". Via Satellite. Retrieved 2014-08-10.
  5. ^ a b Wogan, David (30 December 2013). "High-definition video from space is available for purchase. Finally". Scientific American. Retrieved 12 May 2014.
  6. ^ a b Burns, Matt (17 April 2012). "Skybox Imaging Raises $70M To Launch Two High-Res Imaging Microsatellites". TechCrunch. Retrieved 12 May 2014.
  7. ^ Truong, Alice (11 December 2013). "Proof That Cheaper Satellites Still Can Take Incredibly Detailed Photos of Earth". Fast Company. Retrieved 12 May 2014.
  8. ^ "High-Performance Satellites". Skybox Imaging. Archived from the original on 17 March 2015. Retrieved 17 March 2017.
  9. ^ a b "Inside a Startup's Plan to Turn a Swarm of DIY Satellites Into an All-Seeing Eye". Retrieved 4 November 2017.
  10. ^ a b c
  11. ^ "High Resolution Smallsats Built by SSL Arrive at Vandenberg AFB for Launch". (Press release). Space Systems/Loral, LLC. 5 September 2017. Retrieved 1 November 2017.
  13. ^ a b "Planet Doubles Sub-1 Meter Imaging Capacity With Successful Launch Of 6 SkySats". (Press release). Planet Labs Inc.
  14. ^ Henry, Caleb (5 August 2016). "Terra Bella's SkySat 3 Green Propulsion System Declared Operational - Via Satellite -". Via Satellite. Retrieved 1 November 2017.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o
  16. ^ Clark, Stephen. "Silo-launched Dnepr rocket delivers 32 satellites to space". Website. Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 12 May 2014.
  17. ^ Truong, Alice. "Proof That Cheaper Satellites Still Can Take Incredibly Detailed Photos Of Earth". Website. Fast Company. Retrieved 11 December 2013.
  18. ^ Hearn, Mark. "Skybox Imaging successfully launches its SkySat-2 Earth observation satellite". Website. 9to5Google. Retrieved 8 July 2014.
  19. ^ Eisenberg, Anne (10 August 2013). "Microsatellites: What Big Eyes They Have". The New York Times. Retrieved 12 May 2014.
  20. ^ Henry, Caleb. "Skybox Imaging Releases First Images from SkySat 2". Website. Satellite Today. Retrieved 11 July 2014.
  21. ^ "Skybox Imaging Selects SSL To Build 13 Low Earth Orbit Imaging Satellites". 10 February 2014. Retrieved 11 August 2016.
  22. ^ "Terra Bella Evaluating Launches for Eight SkySats by 2017". Satellite Today. Access Intelligence. 6 April 2016. Retrieved 11 August 2016.
  23. ^ "SkySat-3 First Light". Terra Bella Blog. Google, Inc. 28 June 2016. Retrieved 11 August 2016.
  24. ^ "International Assortment of Satellites lifted by Indian PSLV Rocket". 22 June 2016. Retrieved 11 August 2016.
  25. ^ "VIKRAM SARABHAI SPACE CENTRE - PSLV". ISRO. Retrieved 18 April 2015.
  26. ^ "Alphabet Investor Relations". 9 June 2014. Retrieved 11 August 2016.
  27. ^ a b "Skybox Imaging + Google". 8 June 2014. Retrieved 29 June 2016.
  28. ^ Lardinois, Frederic (8 March 2016). "Google renames its satellite startup, Skybox Imaging, to Terra Bella and adds focus on image analysis". TechCrunch. AOL Inc. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  29. ^ Protalinski, Emil (8 March 2016). "Google rebrands Skybox as Terra Bella, will launch 'more than a dozen satellites' over the next few years". VentureBeat. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  30. ^ Clark, Stephen (16 September 2016). "Vega rocket hauls up quintet of Earth observation satellites". Spaceflight Now.
  31. ^ "Google sells satellite imaging business Terra Bella to Planet Labs". Reuters. 3 February 2017. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  32. ^ Graham, William (31 October 2017). "Orbital ATK Minotaur-C launches SkySat mission out of Vandenberg". NASASpaceFlight.
  33. ^ Safyan, Mike (22 October 2018). "Two SkySat Satellites, Three Doves, and a Record-Breaking Launch on Spaceflight's SSO-A". Planet Labs, Inc.
  34. ^ Wall, Mike (3 December 2018). "SpaceX Rocket Makes Historic 3rd Launch Into Space with 64 Satellites On Board".

External links[edit]