Planet Labs confirms big investment deal

The competition heats up: Planet Labs has confirmed obtaining an additional $95 million in investment capital on top of previous investments of $65 million.

Planet Labs has launched 73 satellites to date based on the 3U CubeSat form factor, about 30 centimeters in length and weighing only a few kilograms. Most of its satellites have been deployed from the International Space Station into short-lived orbits to test technology for later systems. That satellite total includes two spacecraft included on the latest cargo mission to the ISS, launched by SpaceX Jan. 10. Planet Labs built those satellites in nine days after 26 other Planet Labs satellites were lost in the Oct. 28 launch failure of an Orbital Sciences Corp. Cygnus cargo mission to the station.

Planet Labs plans to ultimately deploy a constellation of satellites to provide imagery of the entire planet every day. It has announced several partnerships with geospatial information companies to make use of imagery from its satellites for various applications.

What both this deal and the SpaceX/Google deal illustrate is the growing financial interest in space activity. Rather than governments financing the activity, private enterprise is going to do it. And it will do it far more efficiently with far far better results far far far more quickly.

The next decade or so in space exploration should be very exciting to watch. I wish I was forty years younger.

The first four cubesats of a fleet of 28 launched from ISS on Tuesday.

The first four cubesats of a fleet of 28 launched from ISS on Tuesday.

The four “cubesats,” each about the size of a loaf of bread, were deployed from the space station this morning and began zipping freely around Earth. Twenty-four more will join them over the coming days, filling out the “Flock 1” satellite fleet operated by San Francisco-based startup Planet Labs. Planet Labs’ Flock 1 will provide frequent, low-cost, high-resolution imagery of Earth that could serve a variety of purposes, company officials say, from tracking deforestation and natural disasters to monitoring leaks in oil pipelines.