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February 13, 2013

Skybox Announces Quick Addition to Imaging Fleet

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor


Startup Skybox Imaging has announced it will add a second satellite to its fleet this year due to a newly available secondary launch opportunity onboard a Soyuz-Fregat rocket later this year.   The "previously unplanned" high-resolution imaging satellite SkySat-2 will be built within nine months in order to make the rideshare opportunity.

"The ability to build and launch a satellite with the capabilities of Skybox’s satellites in less than a year was impossible five years ago,” said Joe Rothenberg, technical advisory board chairman for Skybox and former director of Goddard Space Flight Center. “The convergence of launch opportunities, computing technologies and Skybox's Silicon Valley approach to aerospace enables the company to innovate more rapidly than other players in the industry.”

SkySat-2 will be carried onboard the primary launch of a Meteor-M weather satellite from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan. The secondary launch opportunity was secured through a contract with JSC Glavkosmos, an agency within the Russian Federal Space Program that works on behalf of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos).

If all goes as planned, SkySat will have two satellites in orbit by the end of the year. SkySat-1 is already manifested to go up in 2013 onboard a Dnepr launch vehicle. A February 2012 Forbes piece says the satellites should be about the size of a "mini-fridge" and weigh in about 200 pounds, with a resolution of about "a yard or less."

SkySat will offer a web-accessible platform able to capture video or images of any location on Earth within a couple of days. Starting with two satellites, the company has the potential to scale up to a constellation of satellites that would have the ability to image any spot on Earth within an hour.  

Anyone with a credit card will be able to log into the service and purchase imagery. Businesses that need frequent monitoring of ground conditions, such as farmers, insurance companies and Fortune 500 businesses, will be able to have ready access to imagery and the ability to data mine it for competitive intelligence, analysis, change detection and other areas.

Powering the "back-end" imaging processing and data searching on the ground is a combination of true cloud computing tools based around Hadoop with various proprietary software written to put everything together. Development is being conducted on an in-house cluster and once robust, the company has said it has the option to deploy "at scale" using Amazon EC2's service or other scalable cloud platforms.

Founded in Silicon Valley in 2009, Skybox has been relatively low on the radar of new space efforts when compared to the asteroid miners and commercial manned space efforts.   The company is worthy of attention, however, since it has raised three rounds of venture capital and a total of $91 million in financing from Besserner Venture Partners, Canaan Partners, Khosla Ventures, and Norwest Venture Partners.




Edited by Brooke Neuman



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