Why is it that “your first” seems more beautiful than you ever could’ve imagined? Your first car, your first apartment, your first child? It has to be the anticipation of the moment, the hard work you put in, and the big milestone you’ve achieved. It makes it that much better, that much more beautiful to behold.
That’s what we’re feeling here at Spaceflight Industries when we look at the first wave of pictures we’ve taken from BlackSky’s Pathfinder-1. We’re in awe of their beauty. They’ve been flowing in over the last few weeks, and we couldn’t be more excited to share them with you.
Here are a few of our early favorites:
Mountains, Kandahar, Afghanistan
Desert Mountain, Bayingolin, China
Tokyo Suburbs, Tokyo, Japan
These pictures are from our Pathfinder series of spacecraft. This first satellite demonstrates our ability to perform change detection and monitoring at a relevant scale. Airplanes, boats, shipping containers, trucks and cars are all easily detected in the initial imagery. As we continue to calibrate the system our images will become even sharper.
Now for some details.
Pathfinder-1 is currently operating in a 690 km circular orbit because it was launched as a rideshare spacecraft. Our BlackSky constellation will operate at 450 km providing 1-meter resolution. This means our resolution will be nearly twice as good as what you are seeing in these pictures. To prove this point – pull out your phone and stand seven feet from an object and take a picture. Now move forward one giant step – 2.5 feet – and take another. Do things look closer?
Even at this altitude we are pleased with the detail and performance, which validates our ability to look at major drivers of our economy. Each image has millions of pixels in them and captures an area that is 10 km across. Exploring the planet this way is a powerful thing.
Since we first launched Pathfinder-1 about a month ago, we’ve confirmed our entire space and ground architectures are operational. We are now in the process of transitioning to fully automated mission operations. As we move forward and refine our space and ground systems, we are executing demonstrations that highlight the ability of the constellation to deliver imagery to customers with unprecedented timeliness.
We are still very early in our spacecraft mission and there is a lot more to learn and improve on from a performance standpoint. But to be clear, these pictures represent mission success.
As a final reflection, often times we move too fast and don’t take the time to reflect on our accomplishments. With these pictures, we’re doing just that. Stepping back and enjoying “total mission success” – Hello beautiful!
PS: Stay tuned, we will release more images on our Twitter handle (@Blacksky_Inc) very soon – be sure to follow us.
Background zu ISRO´s PSLV-C-35 Start mit Pathfinder-1:
According to a 2015 report compiled by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), there will be 26 payloads launched to the geosynchronous orbit, and 151 to other orbits, in 2017. The FAA also adds that the “satellite services market is generally robust”. The Satellite Industry Association estimated that revenues in the satellite manufacturing and services sectors grew by 4% from 2014 to 2015, reaching $16.6 billion and $127.4 billion respectively.
6. Pathfinder-1 is going up, and you should keep an eye on it. It’ll have one on you.
Pathfinder-1 is a satellite operated by BlackSky Global, an American startup that provides Earth-observation services. And it’s the first of a constellation of 60 satellites that will eventually form a network for “tracking economic assets, monitoring illegal maritime activity, providing humanitarian relief” and “securing troops and borders”, among other things, by 2019.
The Pathfinder network’s USP is how it will communicate. Most satellites in orbit around Earth communicate with ground stations using radio waves. When a satellite collects some information, it is encoded in radio-frequency waves and relayed to networks on the ground, which then distribute it. As a result, there is a significant delay between when an image is commissioned and when it is finally delivered.
The BlackSky Pathfinders, on the other hand, will use technology derived from the American military’s Kestrel Eye satellites to provide near-realtime reconnaissance capabilities.
This is achieved in two broad ways. First, in the legacy of Kestrel Eye, the Pathfinders will optimise data-processing and delivery such that an image is commissioned, captured, processed and downlinked in a span of 10 minutes. Second, the constellation will operate in a low-inclination (40-55º) Sun-synchronous orbit – allowing each satellite to pass over a spot on the ground up to six times a day, but never at the same time on different days. They will also be positioned at an altitude of about 450 km, allowing each satellite to be quickly brought down if it becomes obsolete and replaced with a newer version. BlackSky plans to do this once every three years.
The Pathfinders are being built by a company called SpaceFlight Inc. This company used to be called Andrews Space and had been contracted by the US Army Space and Missile Defence Command in 2013 to build the Kestrel Eye Block 2 satellite.