View Full Version : Planet

4th Sep 2016, 12:50
Sunday Times: Stratospheric gains for a new breed of space pioneer | Business | The Times & The Sunday Times (http://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/business/stratospheric-gains-for-a-new-breed-of-space-pioneer-lt29v05h6)

Just before noon on a scorching day in June, a rocket blasted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre on Sriharikota, an island north of Madras. Within minutes it had climbed to 315 miles above the earth, where the nose of the device peeled open and, like a dandelion in the wind, shed satellites into the great beyond.

The biggest of them was a high-powered mapping satellite sent up by the Indian military. Most of the rest were tiny, no bigger than shoe boxes. Each weighed about the same as the average pet cat. These mini satellites, known as Doves, were built not on a secure military base in India but by tattooed technicians 9,000 miles away in a grubby and hip neighbourhood of San Francisco.

The manufacturer, Planet, operates from a warehouse opposite a charity shop and around the corner from one of the city’s most famous gay bars, the Lone Star Saloon. Its unassuming surrounds give few inklings of its ambition. Planet wants to encircle the world with enough satellites to photograph every inch of its surface, every day. The dozen that hitched a ride on the Indian rocket joined a fleet of 50 Planet machines already in orbit, snapping away.

Will Marshall, a British physicist who left Nasa four years ago to co-found Planet, expects to have a constellation of 100 satellites in operation by the end of the year — enough to make the vision a reality. Sitting in a conference room at the San Francisco HQ, the fresh-faced scientist held up his smartphone and said: “We are taking the miniaturisation of this and applying it to space,” he said. “What used to take something the size of a double-decker bus can now be done by something the size of a shoe box. We are already streaming the largest amount of data humanity has ever seen — by far.”

It’s not easy to get a satellite into orbit. Space companies often have to hitch a ride on rockets that have other purposes — such as a government putting up a military satellite. There are lots of problems with this system. There may or may not be extra room for private machines........

Planet Labs’ constantly updated view of the world, broken down into 10ft2 segments by the Doves’ high-powered cameras and streamed to a network of ground stations, will make it a “wildly profitable business”, Marshall predicts. More than 100 companies already pay for Planet data, from hedge funds betting on crop yields to big retailers wanting to count vehicles in their car parks.

Planet has raised more than $180m from investors including the World Bank and Yuri Milner, the billionaire who was an early backer of Facebook. Musk’s SpaceX, last year raised $1bn from Google, Fidelity and others. In 2014, Google paid $500m in cash for Skybox, a developer of imaging satellites started by four Stanford University students.

Miniaturisation is driving the revolution. After 1957, when the USSR launched Sputnik 1 — a wonky orb about the size of a beach ball — satellites got bigger and bigger. This has reversed dramatically in recent years as companies pack boxes ranging in size from a washing machine to Planet’s little Doves with powerful microchips and high-definition cameras. The number of operational satellites in orbit last year was 1,381, a 39% increase over five years, according to the Tauri Group, an aerospace consultancy.

Greg Wyler, a fast-talking American entrepreneur, plans to expand the global fleet by a further 50%. He is the founder of OneWeb, a start-up incorporated in the Channel Islands but with offices in Silicon Valley, Florida and London. Its plan is to launch 648 of its micro satellites that will then beam down broadband internet to that half of the planet that doesn’t have internet access. That would connect 1.1bn people across Africa, and even provide service to parts of rural England. “The principal goal of the system is to connect every unconnected school in the world, because every school is within 10km of every human,” said Wyler.

The scheme uses crude ground-based receiver antennae that can be installed, he said, by “a little girl in any village in the world”. The price tag? “Just” $3bn, Wyler said. For comparison, BT recently said it would spend more than twice that — 6bn — to lay fast internet connections for 12m Britons.

OneWeb’s globe-spanning ambition might sound fanciful, but Wyler has already raised $500m from the likes Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, the Indian tycoon Sunil Mittal and the US semiconductor giant Qualcomm......

Wyler said: “The most important change has been advances in semiconductors. You need less than half the solar panels and batteries to push a signal than 15 years ago.”

Camera technology has also been transformed. The iPhone 6, for example, has an 8 megapixel camera. The last Mars Rover’s camera had a resolution of just 2 megapixels, Planet’s Marshall said. “It’s crazy!” In other words, your last selfie was far sharper than images captured by a machine Nasa spent $2.5bn sending to another planet. (The latest versions of Planet’s Dove satellites have 29 megapixel lenses.).........


4th Sep 2016, 12:58

4th Sep 2016, 15:39
Kind of torn between neat and more space junk.

4th Sep 2016, 16:16
+1 to both the above....sort of :D and :ooh:

5th Sep 2016, 00:04
It looks like a miniature KH-11.
Which I suppose it what it is to a certain degree...

Loose rivets
5th Sep 2016, 00:45
I second wiggy's post. I was thinking about this wall of hardware today. Frightening.

And the nomenclature. Funny.

"Get your stuff into space inc." The operator traps the phone under her chin, while painting her nails.

"Good morning. I want to place some satellites into orbit."

"You've come to the right place. What weight are your satellites?"

"I've got three at one petcat and two at three-point-five petcat."

"Five units? One more and we can offer a two-kitty discount."

"It's not worth putting another into space for that."

"Okay, I'll offer a two fat-kitty discount, and that's my best offer. What sizes?"

"Oh, they're all standard two-shoebox."

"You've managed to get a three-point-five petcat into a two-shoebox package? Impressive. I can see it's going to be a pleasure doing business with you. Have a perfectly wonderful rest of the day."

5th Sep 2016, 07:03
rivets, sounds like a business that's going to land on its feet.