Planet’s breadloaf-sized satellites capture Earth surface

February 7, 2019  - By
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Planet (formerly Planet Labs) has put about 300 satellites into space, in charge of photographing the entire land mass of the Earth every day.

Paris, capable of going to 3–5m resolution. (Image: Planet Labs Inc.)

Paris, capable of going to 3–5m resolution. (Image: Planet Labs Inc.)

The satellites weigh 5 kg (12 pounds) and measure 20 x 20 x 44 centimeters, about the size of a loaf of bread. They are packed with commercial-off-the-shelf electronics and are built in downtown San Francisco. Mission control consists of a single engineer for dozens of satellites.

Aptly named “doves,” the satellites circle the Earth in 90 minutes, their cameras continuously rolling. “It gives you a perspective of the planet as a dynamic and evolving thing that we need to take care of,” said company co-founder Will Marshall.

Each day, the satellites transmit 1.2 million images at a spatial resolution of 3–5 meters, far more than enough to fully occupy all the analysts at the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA), one of Planet’s more than 200 customers.

Historically, the NGA has relied on three or four very large, very expensive — and to global adversaries, very predictable — spy satellites. The agency has found Planet’s approach intriguing and challenging.

Planet has devised computer algorithms to look for new features day to day, such as roads or buildings th

Planet designs and builds its dove satellites in-house. (Photo: Planet)

Planet designs and builds its dove satellites in-house. (Photo: Planet)

at may signal activity of a significant or nefarious sort. Other customer uses are more mundane, such as agricultural companies monitoring crop health.

Boundless. In December 2018, Planet entered into an agreement to acquire Boundless Spatial Inc., a St. Louis-based geospatial software solutions company, to further support its commercial business with the U.S. government and agricultural clients.

About the Author:


Alan Cameron is editor-in-chief and publisher of GPS World magazine, where he has worked since 2000. He also writes the monthly GNSS Insights column for the weekly Navigate! e-newsletter.

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