News that a rocket exploded upon takeoff filled the airwaves as cable news broadcast endless loops of the spectacular footage.
The Antares rocket was being launched yesterday by the Orbital Sciences Corporation at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Much of the coverage has focused on its payload, which was supposed to be delivered to the International Space Station.
But the rocket was also carrying 26 Flock 1d satellites built by San Francisco-based Planet Labs. The company is creating a network of satellites (it calls them Doves) to build a sophisticated Earth-imaging system.
So far, the company has launched 71 satellites. The batch that was destroyed Tuesday was the supposed to be the next round of that network. The explosion could be a blow to the growing space entrepreneurship community.
In a blog post, Planet Labs chief executive Will Marshall expressed his condolences to other groups that lost equipment in the rocket failure. However, he said the impact on Planet Labs would be minimal because the company had taken the approach of distributing its satellites across many different partners to help get them into orbit.
“Planet Labs understands the risks of launch,” Marshall wrote. “Our approach to mitigate these risks is to deploy our fleets of satellites on multiple launch vehicles from multiple vendors. We also place more satellites in orbit than we require in each launch so that if satellites fail in orbit we ensure continuity.”
The company has raised $65 million in venture financing from such backers as Russia’s Yuri Milner, Industry Ventures, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, and O’Reilly Alpha Tech Ventures.
Marshall said the company will regroup and keep moving forward.
“The beauty of this approach is the very fact that this event is not catastrophic to our company,” he wrote. “Our eggs were not all in one basket. This mishap does not deter us from our mission!”
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