Earth imaging company Planet and the ISRO break records with 88 satellite launch

Planet, the company that recently acquired Google’s satellite Earth imaging business, just pulled off another monumental feat – launching 88 satellites into orbit at once, as part of the largest satellite payload on record with a total of 104 aboard an Indian Space Research Organization rocket (EDIT: As mentioned, the ISRO is the launch provider in this case, and all credit is due to that organization’s success, but our focus here at TC is on the tech startup, which in this case is Planet). The launch also cements Planet’s leadership as a private satellite constellation operator: its 149 total satellites now represents the largest fleet in space operated by a commercial entity.

Why does Planet even want that honor? Because its goal as a company is to image the entirety of the Earth’s land mass every single day, and to do that, it estimated in 2011 when it set out to achieve this mission that it would need between 100 and 150 satellites to make that happen. Now, with 144 of its satellites in orbit engaged in this task, it has reached that threshold.

Planet’s own satellite imaging business has involved miniaturization of satellite tech, as well as growing the scale of its manufacturing operation to meet its needs. It’s also built the second largest network of privately operated ground stations, which receive data from the satellites it owns circling the earth.

The company’s 88 additional units will autonomously come on-line over the course of the next three months in order to contribute to the imaging effort. Planet’s business previously focused exclusively on mid-resolution imaging, but with the acquisition of Google’s Terra Bella business it now also will offer high-resolution capture. That company’s five satellites obviously can’t match the pace of Planet’s 144-strong constellation of mid-res imagers, however, but now the company can offer both timely imaging data of good quality, and more delayed, but much higher resolution information, both of which appeal to different markets.