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PSLV launch
India’s PSLV-C35 rocket rises from its launch pad, carrying eight satellites into space. (Credit: ISRO / Doordharshan via YouTube)

A satellite that’s meant to blaze a trail for Seattle-based BlackSky Global’s Earth-imaging constellation rose into orbit tonight atop India’s four-stage PSLV-C35 rocket.

BlackSky’s Pathfinder 1 was among eight satellites launched from India’s Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota at 8:42 p.m. PT Sunday (9:12 a.m. Monday local time). Over the course of more than two hours, the spacecraft were deployed into two separate sets of orbits.

For India, the star of the show is the 800-pound SCATSAT-1, which will provide data for improved weather forecasting, particularly for tropical cyclones. But for BlackSky Global, a subsidiary of Seattle’s Spaceflight Industries, it’s all about Pathfinder 1.

The 97-pound satellite is designed to demonstrate Earth imaging technologies that could eventually make it possible for customers to order up a high-resolution image of virtually any location on Earth for $90, and get the picture 90 minutes after it’s acquired. “It’s all about the democratization of data about the planet,” Spaceflight Industries’ CEO, Jason Andrews, told GeekWire in June.

Employees gathered at Spaceflight Industries’ Westlake Avenue headquarters to watch the launch on a big screen. “A sweet moment,” BlackSky tweeted.

If Pathfinder 1 and its yet-to-be-launched twin, Pathfinder 2, perform as expected, BlackSky Global plans to build up the full constellation of 60 Earth-watching satellites by as early as 2020. Spaceflight recently went through a $25 million funding round to support the development of the constellation as well as the software platform for distributing orbital imagery.

In addition to Pathfinder 1 and SCATSAT-1, the PSLV-C35 rocket sent up two Indian student-built research satellites, three Algerian demonstration satellites and a Canadian satellite that will test technologies to cut down on orbital debris and keep track of airplanes from space.

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