AUTHOR PROFILE James Mason
Curious Planeteer working to make the Earth's changes visible, accessible and actionable.

Three Years in Space

Stories

On this day in 2013, Dove 2 escaped the surly bonds of Earth aboard a Soyuz 2-1A rocket (along with an unsuspecting and ill-fated crew of 45 mice, 8 gerbils and 15 geckos and some friends). The launch, on a sunny day at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, proceeded perfectly and first contact was made on the first set of passes (Sunday, 21 April 2013) over a rental dish in Palo Alto.

Dove 2’s Soyuz launch

This was a primordial time in the history of Planet Labs. We were named “Cosmogia” then, and the manufacturing line was inside a $100 greenhouse that we dubbed a “clean-enough room”. Dove 2 was a fourth generation Dove (Build 4.5 to be exact), nicknamed “Jillian”, that was going to be our first satellite to enter space. Would our consumer-grade electronics survive the cold, dark, irradiated reality of outer space? Would we even find the satellite after launch? Was Agile Aerospace a pipe dream? But aboard Jillian was a little CPU named “Merlin”, and magic was inevitable.

cosmogia mug
Dove 2 looking glamorous, next to a collector’s edition Cosmogia mug

As our first launch, Dove 2 had the auspicious goals of transmitting a health packet, detumbling, and downloading an image (just one image would do). Dove 2 took almost 1000 pictures, all of them manually scheduled via a fancy spreadsheet and some deft real-time copy/pasting. Two of the images were manually rectified to a basemap.

bad japan
One of the first Dove 2 images: Kakegawa, Japan

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One of the first Dove 2 images: sea ice, in the Gulf of Bothnia

Dove 2 accomplished all of its mission objectives, proved that the fundamental assumptions of Agile Aerospace were sound, and demonstrated Planet’s value ahead of closing the Series A funding round in June 2013.

As Planet’s Vice President of Mission Operations, it’s been exciting and fun to watch Planet grow. Since Dove 2’s launch, we’ve successfully launched 133 satellites, including our newest design: Build 13; our ground station network has expanded from a few rental dishes to our own network of 15 dishes; and we’re now beaming down terabytes of imagery data a day, processing it automatically in our data pipeline, and making it available online.

And Dove 2 started it all.

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