Orbital Sciences Antares rocket explodes violently and is consumed in a gigantic aerial fireball seconds after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014 at 6:22 p.m.  Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Antares Rocket Failure Pushes Tiny Satellite Company To Hitch Ride With SpaceX

Article Updated: 23 Dec , 2015

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The various companies that had stuff sitting on the failed Orbital Sciences Antares rocket launch last month are busy looking for alternatives. One example is Planet Labs, which is best known for deploying dozens of tiny satellites from the International Space Station this year.

The company lost 26 satellites in the explosion. But within nine days of the Oct. 28 event, Planet Labs had a partial backup plan — send two replacements last-minute on an upcoming SpaceX Falcon 9 launch.

In what Planet Labs’ Robbie Schingler calls “the future of aerospace”, almost immediately after the explosion Planet Labs began working with NanoRacks, which launches its satellites from the space station, to find a replacement flight. Half of Planet Labs’ employees began building satellites, while the other half began working through the regulations and logistics. They managed to squeeze two satellites last-minute on to the next SpaceX manifest, which is scheduled to launch in December.

“In space, each element is very difficult to get right by itself, and it takes an ecosystem to deliver a capability this quickly,” wrote Schingler, a president and co-founder of the company, in a blog post last week.

NanoRacks CubeSats deployed from the International Space Station in February 2014, during Expedition 38. Credit: NASA

NanoRacks CubeSats deployed from the International Space Station in February 2014, during Expedition 38. Credit: NASA

“Central to making this possible was developing our own custom design of the satellite that is free from specialty suppliers (thus decreasing lead time) and having a spacecraft design optimized for manufacturing and automated testing. Moreover, we certainly couldn’t have done it without the collaboration from NanoRacks and support from NASA, and we thank them for their support. This is a great example for how to create a resilient aerospace ecosystem.”

There’s no word on how they will replace the other satellites, nor how this will affect Planet Labs’ vision (explained in this March TED talk) to have these small sentinels frequently circling Earth to provide near-realtime information on what is happening with our planet. But the company acknowledged that space is hard and satellites do get lost from time to time.

The company has been testing hardware in space, Silicon Valley-style, and starting to sign partnerships with various entities who want access to the imagery. Check out some of the free stuff below.

Writes Planet Labs of this image: "Water from reservoirs developed on the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in the past 25 years enabled the expansion of cropland in the region, including these circular fields in the ?anliurfa Province of southeastern Turkey." Credit: Planet Labs

Writes Planet Labs of this image: “Water from reservoirs developed on the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in the past 25 years enabled the expansion of cropland in the region, including these circular fields in the ?anliurfa Province of southeastern Turkey.” Credit: Planet Labs

Writes Planet Labs of this image: "Forty percent of the coal mined in the United States comes from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming. The North Antelope Rochelle Mine, pictured here, is both the largest in the basin, and the largest in the United States." Credit: Planet Labs

Writes Planet Labs of this image: “Forty percent of the coal mined in the United States comes from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming. The North Antelope Rochelle Mine, pictured here, is both the largest in the basin, and the largest in the United States.” Credit: Planet Labs

Writes Planet Labs of this image: "The deep valleys and sharp ridges of the Nan Shan range in central China are highlighted in this early-morning satellite image." Credit: Planet Labs

Writes Planet Labs of this image: “The deep valleys and sharp ridges of the Nan Shan range in central China are highlighted in this early-morning satellite image.” Credit: Planet Labs

Writes Planet Labs of this image: "Vivid red maples stand out against the dark green evergreen forest and brown scrub landscape of the Pleasantview Hills." Credit: Planet Labs

Writes Planet Labs of this image: “Vivid red maples stand out against the dark green evergreen forest and brown scrub landscape of the Pleasantview Hills.” Credit: Planet Labs

Writes Planet Labs of this image: "Filled in 1967, Lake Diefenbaker is a 140-mile-long reservoir along the South Saskatchewan and Qu’Appelle Rivers. Diefenbaker is renowned for harboring extremely large fish: the world record rainbow trout (48 pounds) and burbot (25 pounds) were both caught in the lake." Credit: Planet Labs

Writes Planet Labs of this image: “Filled in 1967, Lake Diefenbaker is a 140-mile-long reservoir along the South Saskatchewan and Qu’Appelle Rivers. Diefenbaker is renowned for harboring extremely large fish: the world record rainbow trout (48 pounds) and burbot (25 pounds) were both caught in the lake.” Credit: Planet Labs

Writes Planet Labs of this image: "The red, sediment-filled Colorado River contrasts with blue-green Havasu Creek in the heart of Grand Canyon National Park. The Colorado River is almost always red in spring and summer, since it collects silt from a huge watershed. Short tributaries, however, usually run clear—only picking up significant sediment during flash floods." Credit: Planet Labs

Writes Planet Labs of this image: “The red, sediment-filled Colorado River contrasts with blue-green Havasu Creek in the heart of Grand Canyon National Park. The Colorado River is almost always red in spring and summer, since it collects silt from a huge watershed. Short tributaries, however, usually run clear—only picking up significant sediment during flash floods.” Credit: Planet Labs

Writes Planet Labs of this image: "Dark green fields stand out against the pale desert floor in Pinal County, Arizona. The region’s farms rely on irrigation, since they receive less than 10 inches of rain a year. Irrigation water comes from two main sources: the Colorado River and aquifers." Credit: Planet Labs

Writes Planet Labs of this image: “Dark green fields stand out against the pale desert floor in Pinal County, Arizona. The region’s farms rely on irrigation, since they receive less than 10 inches of rain a year. Irrigation water comes from two main sources: the Colorado River and aquifers.” Credit: Planet Labs

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Aqua4U
Member
November 24, 2014 3:16 PM

Swords into plowshares.. How about using the old SR-71’s, with orbital booster(s) attached to launch Micro-sats? Get up to altitude and speed, pull it into a climb. At the apex launch the payload in the desired direction and angle and BANG five minutes later.. yer in orbit with a couple dozen nodes. Lets talk BIG radio telescope here…

Aqua4U
Member
November 24, 2014 4:02 PM

Jeeze.. think about it like this. As the array of microsat antennae nodes deploys the ‘net’ widens, allowing longer and longer wavelengths to appear? Possibly enabling gravity wave detection?

Of course ultra long wavelength emissions penetrate everything.. right? High data transmission in the waveform wobbles? So you don’t have to create a gravity wave… only modulate it’s waveform?

Ho! Easier said than done… But I’ll bet it’s been done.. somewhere.

delphinus100
Member
November 24, 2014 6:38 PM

We’ve already learned (the hard way) that it’s not easy to launch off one of those…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_D-21

Aqua4U
Member
November 24, 2014 7:25 PM

Yeah… rocket science is a NO kidding engineering feat!

Ps8
Member
Ps8
November 25, 2014 9:31 AM
“using the old SR-71’s, with orbital booster(s) attached” That’s a LOT of needless weight to boost up to 17,000 mph (orbital speed). Plus, the SR-71 is going to burn up during re-entry, because it doesn’t have the ability to withstand the re-entry heat, and never will. Might as well send the cubes up in something much lighter, designed for cheaper delivery. Piggybacking is an excellent way to go for the moment. Your idea below about using White Knight 2 (3,4?) is a good one, providing it can carry a vehicle that can get the payload up to orbital speed rather than merely up to altitude, which it really hasn’t even achieved yet. That vehicle hasn’t been designed yet,… Read more »
Aqua4U
Member
November 24, 2014 7:24 PM

White Knight IV?

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