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The competition heats up: One of the smallsats launched by India’s PSLV rocket this weekend, Pathfinder 1, has successfully begun communicating with the ground as well as transmitting data.
This is a test demonstration flight of this new smallsat Earth observation imaging satellite. As the company notes,
The on-orbit demonstration of the BlackSky Pathfinder spacecraft validates the future vision of real-time global observation and understanding. Specifically, BlackSky’s Pathfinder spacecraft is unique and revolutionary in its size, cost and performance. By comparison, Digital Globe’s WorldView 4 spacecraft — which has truly impressive resolution and spectral diversity — weighs 2,500 kg and costs $750M to put on orbit. Pathfinder represents the pinnacle in rethinking spacecraft design and economics. Our spacecraft, complete with propulsion system and high gain communications, can provide high resolution (1 meter) imagery in a 50 kg package that will fit in a middle seat on a commercial airplane – all for less than $7.5M on orbit. It’s this unique combination of size, cost and performance that enables us to orbit a constellation of 60 spacecraft for less than the cost of a single Digital Globe spacecraft.
As I’ve mentioned several times in the past year, the space industry is diverging into two streams, smallsats for unmanned communications and research satellites, and big spacecraft for human exploration. Tomorrow, Elon Musk will give us his vision of the big spacecraft stream in his much hyped speech at the International Astronautical Congress.