The Life and Death of Ikonos, a Pioneering Commercial Satellite

The commercial satellite industry is in something of a boom time right now, with everyone from Elon Musk to Google planning to launch spacecraft of varying sizes into Earth's orbit, and eventually, beyond. Today, people all over the planet can see photos and even HD video of Earth from above with the click of a button on a computer or phone. But this wasn't always the case. Before Ikonos, a satellite from the Colorado-based company DigitalGlobe, flew to space in September 1999, only a small number of people around the world were able to see high-quality images of Earth taken by spacecraft. Ikonos was retired from service earlier this year, but until its decommissioning, the satellite was part of a constellation of DigitalGlobe orbiters responsible for taking millions of pictures of Earth. The satellite is now orbiting the planet uncontrolled until it burns up when it enters Earth’s atmosphere sometime in the next 25 years.