Posted on March 4th, 2014

Out of This World – A Flock of Space-Gulls

In February of 2014, the International Space Station released a flock of doves into space. While you may think we have entered the Twilight Zone, the last statement is entirely true, just not in the literal sense. The ISS launched a fleet of satellites, known collectively as Flock 1, individually they are called Doves. The satellites are of the miniature variety, what I refer to as throw-away satellites, more quantity then quality.

28 of these mini-satellites were deployed into a very low orbit, 240 to 400 miles above Earth. The satellites have no onboard propulsion, so they will eventually burn up in the atmosphere as they succumb to Earth’s gravity. Information on the satellite’s specifications are few and far between. The resolution may be between 2 and 5 meters, and the revisit time is said to be unprecedented but that’s not very precise. They do intend to continue launching more of these satellites in the next couple of years, which will vary the overall revisit time. The satellites’ individual life expectancy also goes unmentioned.

issThe Dove satellites from Planets Labs arrived at the International Space Station via the commercial cargo craft Cygnus. (Credit: NASA)

While there is a lot of hullabaloo surrounding this new breed of satellite, it’s more of a floating question mark. Hopefully, more will be illuminated with the launch of these 28 satellites. Despite the general lack of information, the intentions of the project appear to be righteous, monitoring the Earth continuously, assisting in disaster imaging and environmental monitoring.

However, in the absence of more information, I can enlighten you on the delivery mechanism now being used by these small CubeSats. NanoRacks, a company specializing in commercial space exploration, has a Smallsat Deployment Program. Using an arm of the International Space Station (ISS), NanoRack can deploy small satellites into low Earth orbits. NanoRack also assists commercial and educational space experiments that can be packed into a NanoLab, a 10cm cube, and hooked into the ISS by USB to record data collected in the lab. It also offers more advanced labs for researchers looking to test technology and science in microgravity.

Katie Nelson
Geospatial Ninja
(303) 718-7163
Katie@apollomapping.com

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