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A Flock of “Doves” up in space shows how our planet looks in real time

by Pubali Mukherjee

Lunar landing mission Apollo 17 first gave us the view of our planet, our home the Earth and over the decades satellite imagery has changed the way we humans perceive space. Tracking the changes occurring in our dynamic planet has always been a cause of concern, since sending satellites up there is insanely expensive. But in 2010 a group of NASA scientists Chris Boshuizen, Will Marshall and Robbie Schingler founded the “Planet Labs” and decided to make show box sized satellites or cubesats which costs way much cheaper than the conventional satellites. like any other Silicon Valley startup the venture started in a garage. They decided to name their Nano satellites as the “Dove” as it has a humanitarian perspective. If we can track the changes occurring in our planet in real time it might be the solution to several problems mankind is facing now. The launch vehicle for the “Doves” is either Russian Dnepr rocket or an Antares heading towards the International Space Station (ISS).Planet Labs first launched its flock of Doves in 2013 which consisted of a constellation of 28 Earth Observing satellites. According to Will Marshall, the CEO of the organization, the Company plans to reach the magic number of 150 satellites which would enable them to track the changes going on in earth everyday as they are happening. Doves are line scanner, scanning every location on earth every 24 hours, on a single orbit plane, in this way Dove images our dynamic planet as it goes through all changes be it anthropogenic or natural. Dove has a dimension of 10 centimeters by 10 centimeters by 30 centimeters weighing 4 kilograms and has a mass way lower than the conventional king size billion dollars’ worth satellites.

Doves have an optical resolution of 3 to 5 meters crammed up with ADCS (Altitude Determination and Control Subsystem), the altitude is sensed by magnetometers gyros and photo-diodes. The altitude is controlled by the magnetometers and reaction wheels. It has Electrical Power subsystem and solar powered cells. The path to launching these “Flock of Dove” had hit a bumper when on October 28,2014 an Antares rocket of Orbital Sciences Corporation, carrying 26 Doves exploded on its way to orbit. Since these shoe box sized mini satellites are much cheaper the company did not have to sit and cry because of this setback. They launched further more at a breakneck pace. A very factor of this venture as stated by the co-founder Will Marshall is the fact they aim to democratize satellite imagery information. Application of the images of Dove is limitless as the major drawback of satellite imagery till now was the frequency of capture.


                      Doves stacked up in Planet labs. Image courtesy: NASA


                   Image courtesy: Space.com


      Image taken by The Dove. Image courtesy: Space.com

Jim Marshall regards our planet earth as a spaceship.People at Planet Labs considers themselves as a space geek who cares of not only what is up there but also what is down here. This might change the idea of what we consider as “Home “,this planet is our home and we all need to do our bit to save our “home”.


SATPALDA is a privately owned company and a leading provider of satellite imagery and GeoSpatial services to the user community. Established in 2002, SATPALDA has successfully completed wide range of photogrammetric and Remote Sensing Projects.

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