Planet Labs. Opensourcing Earth Images

Everyone loves to watch pictures of the Earth from Space. In particular, many small companies and associations would like to get these pictures for cheap prices but they cannot afford to allocate a budget for obtaining them. Planet Labs will make these dreams true from 2014 launching its own fleet of low-cost but high resolution imaging satellites. As the company points out, everyone from ecologists to citizen journalists will be able to track frequent changes to any place on the planet — a frequency and coverage greater than ever seen before. Thanks to this technology, it will be easier to monitor wildlife, desertification, glaciers retreat and many other natural phenomenon.

Nowadays, there are a good number of private and governmental satellites that are screening the Earth. The most precise ones are belonging to private companies and are especially used for defence or commercial purposes. The technology they use allows them to focus on special areas but the demand means that they take a lot of time before getting the pictures and the cost will be quite high. The governmental ones are taking pictures in regular bases but still not too often (once per month) and the resolution is really low, showing images dozens or hundreds metres far from the surface. So, at the moment, the situation is stuck. The first ones wouldn’t lend their images for non-commercial (or, worst, environmental) purposes, while the second ones are not provided in regular basis. That’s exactly the situation in which that Planet Labs could find its niche.

This Startup, founded in 2012 by 3 ex NASA scientists, has risen $13M from Venture Capitalists (DFJ, Capricorn, OATV, Founders Fund Angel, Innovation Endeavors, Data Collective and First Round Capital) in order to launch the World’s largest fleet of imaging satellites called Dove by Q1 2014.

The first two Doves (Dove 1 and Dove 2) have been launched in April and the demonstration has been effective. The data and images provided were good quality, the key technology has been validated and the resolution was as high as expected. The next images will be provided early next year, after the launch of the complete fleet.

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But Planet Labs is not the only company launching its own fleet of satellites for entering the Earth-screening market. Skybox Imaging will launch a fleet of at least 24 satellites. I believe this situation will be interesting and the competition will allow the creation of more and more precise satellites which, hopefully, will help to monitor our surface and our wildlife.