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Monday, November 24, 2014

Planet Labs - Minisatellite

A few days back I came across a this TED video. Planet Labs is a silicon valley startup that's into space science and exploration. As you would see in this video it has made satellites that relatively less expensive , much smaller and lighter .

     The constellation of Dove satellites that the company is launching are a flock of earth imaging satellites that would take images of different places of the earth everyday. So people will have access to the latest pictures and not use old ones. The satellite maybe small but it has a very high resolution camera that can take images of the earth with a 3-5 meter resolution. 

      There is an advantage of getting real time images for example if there is tsunami or a volcano eruption then we will have access to the latest images taken more frequently. 

       The satellites themselves being small are relatively inexpensive and that is why the company is able to launch some of its satellites just for the sake of testing. Planet Labs has already launched 28 such satellites each one of them orbit the earth in 90 minutes taking pictures of the planet all along. 

   The company is reaping advantage of miniaturising the satellites. Making miniaturised satellites makes them cheaper, easier to transport , test , store and handle.   This satellites being cheap, even if one of them fails the loss is minor as compared to loss caused by the failures  of large satellites.
      In case of every electronic device, we have seen that miniaturisation has brought in a big revolution. Take for example the case of Radio. Once upon a time radios used to be a huge box and very expensive. It got smaller and smaller over time today we have radios that can can be a few millimeter across. The same is true in case of every electronic device. 
     Take example of computer data storage devices . There was a time when storing 1 MB of data would take electronic devices spread over large number of rooms. Today one can easily store 32 gigabytes of data i.e - more than 32000 Mb of data in very small micro SD card. Earlier it would have taken hundreds and thousands of dollars, along with huge electricity and maintenance costs, while a 32 Gb micro SD card today costs less than $ 20 and then energy it will consume over a day's usage may be gauged in a few micro watts or less. 
    Technology will constantly keep evolving making products better , cheaper , easier to use. 
      I wish and hope that in the near future many such private companies launch mini satellites that are small and inexpensive doing all sort of things in addition to imaging . Who knows maybe in the future we may shoot off such small or even smaller satellites to distant planets , even this little satellites maybe given their own propulsion. Maybe in future we can simultaneously shoot off satellites to different planets and asteroids .


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