Space firm to launch 90 satellites for constellation blanketing Earth

Rockets for hire, miniaturization, and cheap manufacturing techniques have created a new industry: Space logistics.

An Argentinian satellite and logistics company will launch 90 satellites into Low Earth Orbit. The news comes after the company, Satellogic, closed an agreement with launch services provider China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC), which will send the first 13 satellites into LOE on a Long March-6 (LM-6) Rocket from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in Shanxi Province, China.

The array of 90 satellites will remap the planet at one meter of resolution every week. With its team of data scientists, Satellogic will analyze data on behalf of organizations in a variety of sectors, including oil & gas, agriculture, forestry, finance, and insurance.

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"Think of it as monitoring the earth in the same way that we do today with fitness devices," a Satellogic spokesperson told me. "We want to be able to have high-fidelity, high-resolution data on terrestrial changes, and that requires a constellation approach to satellites. By utilizing smaller and more versatile satellites, we can cover more area, adjust to specific uses and needs, and not rely on a single point for information."

The space services sector is still new, but space has been shifting toward private enterprise since the dawn of this century. Companies like Astrobotic can deliver payloads to the moon for companies and research institutions and space tourism has officially been a thing since American Dennis Tito took a flight in 2001 for $20 million. True, most people still can't catch a ride out of this world, but thanks to rockets for hire, miniaturization, and cheap manufacturing techniques, services previously available exclusively to governments and the largest telecommunications companies are becoming more accessible, even affordable.

CGWIC has already launched five demonstration satellites for Satellogic and will deliver another three in 2019, bringing Satellogic's total number of satellites in orbit to 19. The small spacecraft are examples of a new class of inexpensive orbiter known as CubeSats, small spacecraft that are much cheaper to produce than traditional satellites. Satellogic's units, which the company builds in-house, measure just under one meter by 50 cm by 50 cm and weigh less than 45 kg in wet mass. Each carries equipment for multispectral and hyperspectral imaging.

"We want to help solve the world's most pressing problems by building an accurate and up-to-date picture of our planet and the many forces that reshape it everyday," said Satellogic Founder and CEO Emiliano Kargieman. "This agreement is a major step in realizing that vision. With 90 more spacecraft in our constellation, we will be able to deliver weekly, high-resolution remaps of the entire planet at a price that will set a new standard for access and affordability in our market."

The one meter of resolution provided by the constellation is considered a sweet spot for data that's usable across many sectors. Satellogic's data scientists can count crops and trees, for example, or analyze traffic patterns. Heading off privacy concerns, the company is quick to point out that the resolution is not high enough to read license plates or track individual people.

Satellogic has close to $80 million in funding to date. Other than launch providers, it does all R&D, deployment, and data collection & analysis in-house.