What orbits are your satellites in?

We operate satellites in a combination of International Space Station (ISS) orbits and Sun-Synchronous Orbits (SSO).

International Space Station Orbit (ISS)

We have launched a large number of spacecrafts into this orbit so far.
However, this is not a traditional orbit for earth observation:

  • It’s challenging to operate satellites consistently in this orbit. Frequently passing in and out of the sun strains power systems and being very close to the atmosphere strains attitude control. Satellite lifetime is about 1 year at this altitude (~400km).
  • We like ISS because it’s a great testing ground and gives us regular opportunities to get into space. Moreover, operating in this environment hardens our system design, and imaging at different times of day creates a unique advantage as we get a wider array of opportunities to see past clouds in many parts of the world. We allow users to filter time of acquisition through our API, so if any of these time do not work for a specific use case, they are easy to avoid.

Sun-Synchronous Orbit (SSO)

This is the standard in earth observation and will be the orbit for Planet Labs large production constellations in 2016.
Our target lifetime is 2 to 3 years for SSO constellations, deployed at 475-500km above the surface of the earth, with a local imaging time of 10.30am.

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