The San Francisco-based company Planet Labs has tapped SpaceX for a multi-launch deal to launch its Earth-imaging satellites through 2025. Planet’s Dove and (more recent) SuperDove CubeSats will launch as “rideshare” packages on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets.
The statement from Planet Labs did not specify how many SpaceX launches that the company signed up for or the total value of the contract. So far, SpaceX has launched 83 of the Dove and SuperDove satellites on seven rockets.
“I’m excited to continue our partnership with SpaceX. … Together we’ve pioneered rapid planning, manufacturing and launch of satellites that only Planet and SpaceX could together have achieved,” said Planet Labs CEO Will Marshall.
The first package of 44 SuperDove satellites are scheduled to launch in December on SpaceX’s Transporter-3 mission. The Transporter launches are designed to send a large number of small satellites into orbit without them having to wait on the launch schedule for larger payloads like NASA’s Europa Clipper and components for the Lunar Gateway.
Planet Labs has also launched satellites on SpaceX competitors like India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle and Rocket Lab’s Electron. Rocket Lab especially competes with SpaceX’s Transporter dedicated rideshare missions with the capacity to launch dozens of CubeSats at once. Planet also has a contract with the Bay Area launch company Astra for a multilaunch mission in 2022. Astra is slated to make its first operational launch later this month with a payload for the U.S. Space Force. In the same statement from Planet Labs, company representatives showed little interest in an exclusive deal with SpaceX:
“Moving forward, we will continue to operate with a variety of launch providers to ensure that launch needs can still be met in the event of unavailabilities of specific providers. By engaging with a diversified manifest, Planet can find launches to the right orbit in the right time frame for each evolving satellite project.”
Planet Lab’s Earth imaging satellites are currently capable of producing 25 terabytes of data daily. This data is produced with a complete scan of the planet once every 24 hours, making it capable of tracking small daily changes in Earth’s surface. It monetizes that data by selling it to a variety of customers, including government agencies and farmers. It also makes some important data available free of charge and the data has helped first responders improve their ability to respond to natural disasters like wildfires and earthquakes. The data has also been used by climate scientists for a better understanding of the impact of climate change and can also track illegal logging and mining activities.
“As the world shifts to a more sustainable economy and more companies and governments set their sustainability and ESG [environmental, social and governance] goals, the first step in achieving these objectives is measurement. Planet’s daily, global data is foundational to making that transition,” Marshall said in a separate statement.
A recent fundraise placed Planet Labs at a valuation of $2.8 billion. It will become a publicly-traded company with a merger deal with dMY Technology Group. Its stock will be found on the NYSE stock exchange with the ticker symbol PL.