LOGAN, Utah — Startup Earth imaging constellation operator Astro Digital has scaled back plans for its Landmapper BC satellite constellation, concluding that by cross-calibrating with the U.S. Landsat 8 satellite and Europe’s twin Sentinel 2 spacecraft, the company can provide the same temporal resolution with five Landmapper BC satellites instead of the planned 10.
Astro Digital Chief Executive Chris Biddy said cross-calibrating the Astro Digital spacecraft with the U.S. and European satellites, the latter of which were not launched when the company planned its 10-satellite architecture, will allow it to save several million dollars.
Astro Digital raised around $16.7 million in 2017 with backing from VP Capital and Larnabel Ventures.
Two Landmapper BC spacecraft did not respond following their launch July 2017 aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket.
In January of this year, a Landmapper BC was successfully placed into orbit by India’s PSLV rocket. A second Landmapper BC is scheduled for launch in November, along with 70 other small satellites, aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket purchased by small-satellite launch aggregator Spaceflight Industries.
Biddy said three more Landmapper BCs are scheduled for launch in 2019, one in the third quarter. The launch date for the two others is not yet certain. Astro Digital had signed an agreement with startup launch-service provider Vector, with a launch planned for 2018. Vector’s inaugural orbital mission is scheduled for late this year.
“So we expect to have five Landmapper BC satellites in orbit by the end of 2019,” he said.
Here’s how Biddy explained the change of plans at Astro Digital, whose Landmapper BCs multispectral imager has a 22-meter ground sampling distance, designed for the agricultural and natural-resources markets that do not require high-resolution images.
“Our vision was to take what Landsat 8 was doing — every 16 days repeat coverage — and bring that into daily coverage,” Biddy said at the SmallSat conference here Aug. 6. “When we started, Sentinel [owned by the European Space Agency and the European Commission as part of the Copernicus Earth observation network] was not quite launched yet.
“With Sentinel 2A and 2B providing quite a bit of capacity, we’re looking at aggregating those sensors, performing the cross-calibration ourselves and then delivering the analytics-ready-quality products from there,” he said.
Europe’s Copernicus network, like the U.S. Landsat program, has a policy of a free and open data-distribution policy.
Biddy’s presence at the conference was mainly to showcase the company’s Ka-band transmitter, a first-generation version of which is flying on the Landmapper BC in orbit since January.
The transmitter is used to backhaul Astro Digital imagery to a ground station in Svalbard, inside the Arctic Circle, at transmission rates of between 35 and 320 megabits per second, depending on the look angle of the satellite on a given orbit over the ground station.