May 21, 2014

Huntsville's Dynetics will build Earth-observing satellites to image entire planet every day

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Dynetics Inc. of Huntsville will build up to 18 small satellites in Huntsville for a new partnership aimed at orbiting “a constellation” of Earth-observing instruments capable of creating “the next generation of Big Data” about the planet for business and government.

The partners – OmniEarth LLC, Harris Corp., Draper Laboratory and Dynetics – announced their plans today. The satellites will be built at Dynetics Solutions Complex facility in Huntsville’s Cummings Research Park.

The planned satellite group will cover “100 percent of the Earth once a day,” OmniEarth said in a press release. It will deliver high-resolution “analytics-grade” multispectral imagery data and products from a sun-synchronous, low-Earth orbit. That means the same areas can be imaged at the same time on different days for comparison.

“This partnership brings together the necessary technical capabilities and space-mission experience for achieving the most ambitious mission to observe planet Earth ever undertaken,” Lars Dyrud, president and CEO of OmniEarth, said in a statement. “This system will generate up to 60 petabytes of scientific quality Earth observation data annually to feed the next generation of Big Data analytics. Our planned satellite constellation will provide the platform for users who need high-quality analytics-friendly imagery to automatically extract commerce and environmental information and make predictions.”

The satellites will be built at the new Dynetics facility designed to support assembly line satellite construction. The company has already shown it can build small, relatively inexpensive satellites with a satellite built for NASA called FASTSAT (Fast, Affordable, Science and Technology Satellite). Dynetics built FASTSAT, about the size of a washing machine, in less than 10 months using off-the-shelf technology.

Mike Graves, manager of space vehicles for Dynetics, said the partnership will basically work like this: Draper provides overall systems engineering for the satellites, Dynetics builds them, OmniEarth sells the data generated, and Harris helps find other companies interested in sharing the ride into space and the satellite for their own instruments.

Launches will begin in 2016, Graves said, and could be atop any of several commercial launch providers. Employment at Dynetics will iincrease when production begins.