The first of Planet Labs’ 28-strong fleet of Earth observing CubeSats leaped into orbit from the International Space Station’s spring-loaded deployer mechanism early Feb. 11.
The first four of the San Francisco-based Planet Labs’ Dove Sats emerged from the launcher outside the orbiting science laboratory’s Japanese Kibo module in pairs at 3:32 a.m. and 7:41 a.m. EST.
Four more of the small spacecraft were to follow in similar waves overnight (9:35 p.m. EST, and 2:30 a.m. EST), as flight control teams worked on a schedule for the remainder of the 33 multi-mission CubeSats delivered to the 260-mi.-high, six-person station aboard’ Cygnus commercial re-supply capsule on Jan. 12 for deployments.
The deployments signal an expanding utility of the ISS through the efforts of Houston-based Nanoracks, the launch provider; the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, of Melbourne, Fla., which manages the station’s U.S. National Laboratory manager; as well as Planet Labs. The Silicon Valley startup plans to offer imagery for humanitarian, environmental and commercial applications.
astronaut Koichi Wakata, who supervised the initial deployments, worked toward deployments late last week, following the Cygnus berthing. However, he experienced difficulties with the alignment of an electronics box as he set up the dispenser, which is moved through a small airlock with the satellites to an external Japanese robot arm for the deployments. The alignment issue was corrected on Feb. 6.
The timing was postponed further to ensure the deployments would not interfere with the Global Precipitation Measurement Satellite, a joint JAXA/mission scheduled for a Feb. 27 launch from the Tanegashima Space Center, of Japan.