Virgin Orbit has been selected by geospatial analytics company HyperSat to launch a series of six satellites to low Earth orbit in the coming years, the Long Beach-based small satellite launch company announced Wednesday.
The hyperspectral satellite constellation will be able to capture and process images across the entire reflective spectrum—from visible light to longwave infrared—pixel by pixel. The processing capabilities will enable the constellation to identify items with “superb precision,” according to the announcement.
HyperSat awarded the design-phase contract to defense and security company QinetiQ, which will lead a team of engineering and technology organizations, including Redwire, Millennium Engineering and Integration, and Brandywine Photonics. Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne system will provide launch services.
HyperSat selected Virgin Orbit in part because of the LauncherOne’s agility, mobility and responsiveness, which allows for shorter call-up times and more flexible scheduling, the launch company said.
“Virgin Orbit is making good on our promise to unleash the small satellite revolution,” Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said in a statement. “QinetiQ’s team embodies the bold energy of this new era of space. It’s extremely exciting to join with our partners to deploy new capabilities and new ideas that will shape our world.”
The first satellite is expected to launch no earlier than 2023 and will be able to image 500 spectral bands from the visible to shortwave infrared regions. The satellite will have a ground sample distance of 6 meters, which is the distance between pixel centers of an image.
Subsequent satellites will offer longwave infrared images and more shortwave infrared capabilities, but timeframes for other launches have not been determined, a Virgin Orbit spokesperson said.
The image resolution will allow the satellites to be used for defense and security as well as commercial applications such as agriculture and insurance when “highly accurate Earth observation images can inform critical decisions,” according to the announcement.
Unlike traditional ground-launched rockets, Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne is deployed from under the wing of the company’s modified 747. The launch system reached successfully reached space for the first time in January.