How do you spread your satellites out after launch?

Since Planet's Dove satellites do not have onboard propulsion, we have to use alternative means to position them into position after launch:

  • The satellites are deployed at short intervals, providing some initial spacing between them.
  • Using our attitude control system we then command groups of Doves into differential drag orientations.
  • Differential drag refers to using the remnants of the earths atmosphere to impact the speed any individual satellite.
  • Facing our deployable solar panels "into the wind" (basically facing the direction of travel) slows the satellite down.
  • This slow-down causes the satellite to drop slightly, which, strangely enough, results in a net gain of speed.
  • This allows us to move individual satellites ahead of each other, basically allowing us to space them out evenly over time.
For our very largest launches, we estimate it could take as long as a couple of months to spread all the satellites into their optimal positions, but we will be most of the way there within a few weeks of them reaching space.
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