Planet: How Daily Images of the Entire Earth Will Change the Way We Look At It

Smithsonian Magazine
By Nathan Hurst
March 13, 2017

With more satel­lites than any oth­er com­pa­ny, Plan­et Labs gives envi­ron­men­tal researchers dai­ly data

On Feb­ru­ary 14, a com­pa­ny called Plan­et Labs launched 88 small satel­lites. Com­bined with its pre­ex­ist­ing satel­lites and the recent acqui­si­tion of satel­lite imag­ing com­pa­ny Ter­ra Bel­la, this means it oper­ates more satel­lites than any oth­er com­pa­ny in the world.

Each unit is about the size of a loaf of bread, and includes a cylin­dri­cal gold tele­scope linked to a CCD image sen­sor (sim­i­lar to the high-qual­i­ty, low-noise sen­sors in high-end dig­i­tal cam­eras), as well as equip­ment to beam 20-kilo­me­ter by 20-kilo­me­ter images to a net­work of ground stations.

With the increased capac­i­ty—the satel­lites, called Doves, are cur­rent­ly spread­ing around the Earth and deploy­ing their solar panels—Planet will be able to achieve its orig­i­nal goal: imag­ing the entire land mass of the Earth every day.Dove-Satellite.jpg

Each satel­lite, called a Dove, is about the size of a loaf of bread. (Plan­et Labs)

We real­ly thought long and hard about all the prob­lems of the world, and what is it that we could do using satel­lites to help those things, from feed­ing the hun­gry, to get­ting access for peo­ple to clean water to dis­as­ter response to stop­ping defor­esta­tion,” says Will Mar­shall, Plan­et co-founder and CEO. “Imag­ing the plan­et on a more reg­u­lar basis, we believe, can sig­nif­i­cant­ly help many of those glob­al challenges.”

Plan­et sells access to their images to a vari­ety of indus­tries, from agri­cul­tur­al com­pa­nies to con­sumer map­ping com­pa­nies to gov­ern­ments. The imagery is used to mon­i­tor agri­cul­ture and forests for man­age­ment, and to plan intel­li­gence and dis­as­ter response, but it has great poten­tial in tack­ling envi­ron­men­tal issues.

Read the full sto­ry at Smith­son­ian Magazine