SpaceX launched 58 new satellites out of a planned 12,000-satellite Internet accessibility constellation for Starlink and three new satellites for the SkySat constellation on August 18. SkySat is owned by the satellite imagery company Planet, which plans to use the constellation to sell imagery to government agencies and private organizations.
SpaceX successfully landed the first stage of the Falcon rocket used for yesterday’s launch on one of its drone ships. This marks SpaceX’s 58th successful recovery of a first stage rocket and the 39th successful landing on a drone ship. This is part of SpaceX’s program of making rocket launches more accessible to smaller aerospace companies by reusing previously flown rocket stages.
SkySats 20, 21, and 22 were launched as a secondary payload in SpaceX’s “ride sharing” program. This is the second launch that included both Starlink satellites and SkySats. This can also bring down costs for companies and allows them to get infrastructure into space sooner than if they had to wait for an open slot in the launch schedule. By splitting the new SkySat deployment into two launches, Planet found it easier to maneuver them into the appropriate orbital planes for more effective coverage.
“By taking advantage of SpaceX’s rideshare program, we were able to get these satellites launched much faster compared to a dedicated launch,” said Planet vice president of launch operations Mike Safyan.
Benefits of High-Resolution Imagery in Space
By launching the SkySats, Planet can tap into an already growing market for images taken from space. The same set of images can be used for a wide variety of humanitarian and scientific purposes. High-resolution imagery from orbiting satellites have already been used by government agencies and private organizations for disaster recovery, tracking illegal deforestation, and even discovering ancient ruins in areas that are extremely difficult to access.
Satellite images have also been used to track large wildfires and give a more clear picture of climate patterns that can lead to drought or severe weather. Every time you tune into your local news station for the weather report or get a warning of an incoming hurricane, you are likely to see images generated by orbiting satellites. Satellite imagery can give several days’ worth of advance warning for severe weather events rather than mere hours before it strikes, making it more feasible to prepare or evacuate.
Similarly, constellations like Starlink can provide Internet connectivity to disaster response teams that otherwise might not be able to get information quickly. If a major earthquake has hit a region, it’s likely that most utilities will be severed, which can make it difficult to coordinate the response by crippling ground-based communications. Starlink testers recently reported speeds of up to 60 Mbps and SpaceX has plans to boost this to up to 1 Gbps once the full constellation is launched, which will be useful to response teams that need information quickly. If Starlink works in conjunction with imaging satellites like SkySat, response teams can coordinate more effectively with access to both reliable communications and up-to-the-second information.
Payload launch companies like SpaceX are making this feasible by helping to bring the cost of each launch down through reusable hardware and “ride sharing” services. This recent launch has added more capability to two constellations that will be highly useful for both humanitarian and commercial applications.