US: Earth Observation company, Terra Bella wants to launch 21 satellites in orbit by the end of next year. The Google-owned company, has already launched two satellites in orbit. Up next the company is planning to initiate the launch process for its SkySat C series satellites, for which out of 19 satellites, 11 have been assigned to respective launch providers. The company is studying launch options for last eight years, to meet its goal of fielding a fleet of 21 satellites by 2017.
Space Systems Loral (SSL) is Terra Bella’s manufacturing partner for the SkySat satellites, building 19 SkySat Cs — one prototype and 18 final versions. Joe Rothenberg, director of Skybox engineering and operations at Google, told Via Satellite that the first SkySat C satellite is currently scheduled to launch aboard a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) from the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) on May 31. The PSLV launch is for the prototype to precede the rest of the series. The next four are then to launch on an Arianespace Vega as a rideshare this summer, followed by six more on Orbital ATK’s Minotaur rocket during the fourth quarter this year.
“Obviously, given it’s a satellite program, if we have problems on either the construction side or launch vehicle delays it could slip a little bit, but right now things are on track,” said Rothenberg.
Of the three biggest factors — cost, schedule and reliability — schedule is Terra Bella’s most important criterion right now, according to Rothenberg. He said there are enough reliable launch vehicles for the SkySats, which weigh about 120 kilograms each.
“[What is important is] having the schedule flexibility to do what needs to be done, to make sure what you are putting in orbit is going to work; in the case of a demonstration satellite, that you haven’t shortchanged the amount of technology you want to test just to make the launch date. It’s flexibility of schedule to accommodate potential development problems on the ground, or even manufacturing and test of a production line. Schedule flexibility is probably the most important, and cost being a very close second,” said Rothenberg.