Planet’s SkySat and Dove imaging craft headed to orbit aboard Vandenberg AFB launch
An online stream of the Vandenberg Air Force Base launch shows the Minotaur C rocket blasting off Tuesday afternoon. (Courtesy photo)
A skinny four-stage rocket blasted off its austere launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base Tuesday on a mission carrying 10 commercial spacecraft into orbit — along with some art.
The Minotaur C rocket, built by Orbital ATK, blasted off from Space Launch Complex-576E at 2:37 p.m.
A short time, a launch team member announced firmly that the rocket’s fairing had separated and fully deployed.
It was the key milestone for the rebranded rocket formerly called Taurus and plagued by a number of technical troubles involving the nose cone failing to fall away as scheduled dooming previous missions.
The rocket carried six SkySat craft plus four Dove satellites, all of which were successfully delivered to orbit less than 20 minutes after liftoff, officials said.
Planet’s SkySat and Dove spacecraft will capture medium and high-resolution multispectral imagery of Earth at an unprecedented frequency for the commercial market.
The SkySat craft, each weighing 220 pounds and badembled by Space Systems Loral joined seven others already in space, boosting Planet’s high-resolution imaging capabilities by enabling multiple imaging pbades in a single day.
“The SkySats are built with a whole lot of awesome,” Chester Gilmore from Planet said during a webcast of the mission.
Planet obtained the SkySat fleet after acquiring the Terra Bella business from Google, Inc. in April.
The new Dove craft, each about the size of a bread loaf, join 170 others already in orbit.
Together the two fleets will provide key information about the changing planet for industries such as agriculture, insurance companies, disaster relief to determine where roads exist after an incident and more .
“If you think about the different clbades of spacecraft they would operate much like the human eye operates,” Gilmore said.
The Dove satellites will provide a wide field of view, akin to the peripheral vision of an eye.
“When you see something of interest you would turn your head and your iris would zoom in and focus. That would be what the SkySats would do,” Gilmore said. “The theory is to operate them as a homogenous network of spacecraft.”
Dove spacecraft can spot items as big as 3 meters, or 10 feet — about the size of a car. From their place in space, the SkySat craft can see items even smaller.
Planet touted the mission as being “California made — California launched” since all 10 spacecraft were built in the San Francisco Bay Area.
This marked the first dedicated rocket launch for Planet, which typically has had its satellites hitching a ride on other mission.
“This has been a lot fun,” Gilmore said.
Planet’s mission also had a unique flair — art on the rocket fairing by Planet’s artist in residence Forest Stearn.
The art included an image of a Dove plus a macaw bird to illustrate the SkySats.
“All of the spacecraft that we’ve launched to date including the Doves have all actually had art etched onto the side panels of the satellite,” Gilmore said. “So art is something that’s very important to us at Planet and we hope to continue.”
The ground-launched Minotaur C rocket uses four commercially available rocket stages and shares components with its air-launched sibling, Pegasus.
While Pegasus is carried aloft under the belly of a modified L-1011 aircraft, Taurus blasts off from the austere site with a metal stand sitting on a concrete pad.
Vandenberg’s next rocket launch, planned for Nov. 10, will carry the NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Joint Polar Satellite System spacecraft called JPSS-1, the first of a new series of advanced weather spacecraft.
For that mission, a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket carrying JPSS-1 is scheduled to blast off at the start of a 65-second window opening at 1:47 a.m. Nov. 10 from Space Launch Complex-2.