A satellite constellation enters into retirement

After almost 12 years in space - five years longer than originally planned - the RapidEye satellite constellation ceased operations at the end of March and delivered the last images of our blue planet. 


We were involved in the mission with the main instrument, the multispectral camera "JSS-56": JSS stands for Jena Spaceborne Scanner, 5 represents the number of channels (spectral bands) and 6 stands for the image resolution in metres at ground level.


Each of the five satellites had a camera from Jena on board. On 29 August 2008, the five satellites jointly began their journey into space on a DNEPR-1 rocket from Baikonur in Kazakhstan. The rocket carried them safely on their trajectory to an altitude of 630 km above the Earth.


The camera systems for RapidEye developed and manufactured by our specialists use the so-called pushbroom principle, i.e. the surface of the Earth is scanned continuously line by line. Each camera captures a strip of the Earth's surface about 75 km wide in five spectral channels. These channels cover the visible wavelength spectrum and the near infrared range. A particular technological challenge for the developers involved making the camera system so compact that it would fit on a small satellite platform and would not exceed the tight budget. We managed to do both perfectly.


We are proud to have been involved in this successful mission. Particularly because - as in almost all our projects - we were fortunate to work with international partners. In addition to Planet Labs Germany GmbH, these included Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL for short) and MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA for short).


Another important measure of success for us was the involvement of regional partners at our site in Jena.

RapidEye image Berlin
RapidEye last light image of Berlin, Germany. © 2020, Planet Labs Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The data from RapidEye delivers information relevant to agriculture and cartography. Some of the users include, for example, agricultural insurance companies who want to forecast or assess damage, institutions such as the EU, as well as agricultural traders who trade on commodity futures exchanges, or large agricultural enterprises that practice precision farming. The image archive built over the entire time RapidEye was in operation will continue to provide users with interesting information for many years to come - even if new images will no longer be added.


For us, developing the JSS-56 was the connecting link to the legendary MKF-6 from VEB Carl Zeiss Jena, which provided images of our planet from the MIR space station in the late 1970s. Developing the JSS-56 was also the beginning of a number of exciting and, above all, important Earth observation missions for us. In addition to components for the so-called imaging radiometer "METimage - a system for weather satellites - we are involved in all Sentinel satellites in the COPERNICUS programme and supply image processing electronics, optical filters and optics alongside star sensors.


We are very much looking forward to continuing to make a small contribution to protecting the Earth with our products in the future!


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