Planet and Spire Global hitched a ride on the first Soyuz launch out of Russia’s Vostochny Cosmodrome, both adding satellites into their respective constellations. All total, the Russian launch carried 26 small satellites plus two Russian Earth observation satellites at 9:07 PM ET on December 26, 2018, with Japanese imaging start-up AxelSpace among the passengers.
Planet reported all of its new Dove Flock 3K satellites, twelve in all, successfully checked in and now are going through the process of automated commissioning. The Doves were deployed in a 500 kilometer Sun Synchronous Orbit (SSO) and brings the company to a total of around 150 active satellites in orbit, including the 3-5 meter resolution Doves, 1 meter resolution SkySats, and a mixed bag of RapidEye satellites, with Doves the largest number of satellites of the total at over 100.
The Soyuz launch is the third successful launch of satellites in 28 days, with previous launches including the SpaceX SSO-A rideshare flight adding 2 SkySats and 3 Doves and the ISRO PSLV launch carrying 16 Doves to orbit.
Spire Global added 8 Lemur-2 satellites to its fleet, making an active total of 72 Lemur satellites in orbit. With a few more satellites, Spire will pass Iridium’s 72 in total satellite count, with Planet maintaining its position with the most active satellites in orbit by a single commercial operator.
AxelSpace’s GRUS 1 is the company’s first satellite and will provide 2.5 meter resolution single-color imagery and 5 meter resolution multi-spectral imagery. Each GRUS weighs in at 80 kilograms and is expected to have an orbital lifetime of at least five years. AxelSpace plans to add two more GRUS satellites to its fleet in 2020 and is Japan’s first commercial earth observation company.
Other commercial passengers included a pair of D-Star cubesats by German Orbital Systems and R&D payloads for Universities in German, Spain, and South Africa. The D-Star cubesats are 3U in size and weight in at 4 kilograms. The iSky satellite carries an ADS-B aircraft tracking package while the D-Star ONE Sparrow is a pathfinder for the company’s planned communications constellation.