Skybox Accelerates Second Imaging Satellite

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WASHINGTON — Skybox Imaging is accelerating construction of its second satellite to take advantage of an opportunity to launch this year aboard a Russian-built Soyuz rocket topped with a Fregat upper stage, the Mountain View, Calif.-based imagery startup said Feb. 12.

Previously, Skybox planned to launch its SkySat-2 satellite in 2014 aboard a Russian-supplied Dnepr rocket, according to spokeswoman Melissa Wren of the Griffin Communications Group. With the Soyuz contract, the satellite is now scheduled to launch this summer, Wren said in response to a SpaceNews query.

In a press release, Skybox said it was able to take advantage of the “newly available” Soyuz-Fregat opportunity because it is capable of producing a high-resolution imaging satellite in nine months. The launch will take place from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

“The ability to build and launch a satellite with the capabilities of Skybox’s satellites in less than a year was impossible five years ago,” Joe Rothenberg, chairman of Skybox’s technical advisory board and a former director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a prepared statement. “The convergence of launch opportunities, computing technologies and Skybox’s Silicon Valley approach to aerospace enables the company to innovate more rapidly than other players in the industry.”

Skybox is developing a constellation of low-cost imaging microsatellites that will be highly responsive to commercial and government customers due to the combination of frequent revisit rates and a cloud-based data delivery system. The company’s first satellite, SkySat-1, is slated for launch this year as a secondary payload aboard a Dnepr rocket, which is based on excess ICBM hardware.

SkySat-2 also will be a secondary payload; the primary passenger aboard the Soyuz-Fregat rocket is the Russian government’s Meteor-M weather satellite. Skybox contracted for the launch with JSC Glavkosmos, an affiliate of the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, that arranges secondary payload flight opportunities, Skybox said.

Financial terms of the contract were not disclosed.

Wren said Skybox plans to launch its third satellite in early 2014 aboard a Dnepr rocket.