Satellite company, Planet, launched 88 Doves on Tuesday. We’re not talking birds. We’re talking satellites—an entire collection of them, the most ever launched at once.
The Dove satellites won’t beam broadband or power your GPS. They’re designed to scan Earth and to continuously collect images of the entire planet. The Doves are grouped into Flocks, and the group that went into orbit this week is Flock 3p, which represents Planet’s 15th successful launch. Now there are 144 Planet satellites in orbit.
— ISRO (@isro) February 15, 2017
The Doves aren’t the first Earth-imaging satellites out there, but what’s revolutionary about them is their size and number. A single rocket—in this case, a rocket launched by the Indian Space Research Organization—can carry dozens of small (12 inches long and four inches wide) cube-shaped Doves and put them into orbit one after the other. Planet then positions these satellites strategically, so each covers a different area.
Dove satellite. Credit: Planet
Each Dove satellite can transmit information at 200 megabits per second (the same transmission rate as pricey high-speed internet services). Each one can image 2 million square kilometers per day. As impressive as those numbers are, a Flock of Doves is more than the sum of its parts—deploying so many at once will make it possible for Planet to scan Earth’s entire surface every day.
When Doves Fly. Credit: Steve Jurvetson’s (@Planetlabs) Flickr
Planet not only builds its own mini satellites but also supports them with a series of stations on the ground and a customized mission-control system. Planet’s data software can assemble and offer easily accessible time-stamped mosaics of large areas, providing invaluable information for countless industries. The satellites will be particularly helpful in documenting the effects of climate change, such as the shrinking of Antarctica’s sea ice or the increase of storms and volatile weather patterns.