Planet Pulse

Updates, insights, fun and other musings about the state of the planet.

Landsat 8 Data is Available on Amazon Web Services! How This Helps Us…

Landsat is history’s longest-running Earth imaging project. Its enormous data set cements it as an industry standard. We’ve used Landsat data in comparison with our imagery to demonstrate the pace of change on the Earth’s surface. It also informs our image rectification process, helping us create accurate and timely mosaics.

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 10.14.47 AM Left: a Landsat image of the lower Se San dam taken on December 22, 2014. Right: A Planet Labs image of the dam taken less than a month later on January 14, 2015

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Standing water is visible on the mesa in a Planet Labs image collected on September 9, 2014, (right) compared to a USGS/NASA Landsat image from August 22, 2014 (left)

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These satellite images in Saskatchewan, Canada show progress on the construction of the Northgate Hub between September 10, 2013 (Landsat 8, NASA/USGS), and August 28, 2014 (Planet Labs).

We’re thrilled that all new Landsat 8 data is now available on Amazon Web Services. AWS’ streamlined access lets us process more images quicker and helps us deliver fresh insights about our changing planet to customers like Geoplex, Woolpert and Wilbur-Ellis. It’s now much easier for our team to search the Landsat archive and acquire images that help us build seamless, geospatially accurate mosaics.

It has been exciting to contribute to this effort by providing the processing resources and scripts to populate this new public data resource.

We’re ready to see new, meaningful applications of Landsat’s unique data set. Collaborators are welcome to contribute to the data ingest code at https://github.com/landsat-pds/landsat_ingestor. To learn more about the process, join the Landsat-pds mailing list at http://lists.osgeo.org/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/landsat-pds.

Joining the Challenge: Planet Labs Partners with the Rockefeller Foundation

From the start, we’ve been excited by the potential humanitarian applications of our Earth imaging data. Our lofty ambitions are now real and concrete; we’re humbled to announce our partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation to make global change visible, accessible and actionable for those who need it most.

Our Earth imaging data will be incorporated into the Global Resilience Partnership, funded by The Rockefeller Foundation, Sida, and USAID. Our first joint activity is the Global Resilience Challenge, which recently chose seventeen international teams comprising NGOs, universities, for-profits and government agencies to develop novel solutions to some of the most complex humanitarian problems affecting the Sahel, Horn of Africa and Southeast Asia. Planet Labs will provide high-cadence imagery data and technical assistance to GRC teams tackling everything from crowdsourcing crisis response to monitoring fragile ecosystems.

“The Global Resilience Partnership is dedicated to surfacing innovations that can solve the problems that are standing in the way of progress and prosperity in the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, and South and Southeast Asia. To create resilient solutions, we need both new thinking and new information, and Planet Labs technology will be invaluable to helping us all on this journey, ” said Sundaa Bridgett-Jones, Associate Director for International Development at The Rockefeller Foundation.

We’re thrilled that some of the world’s most innovative problem-solvers will use our imagery to solve complex humanitarian problems. And we hope to discover meaningful new applications for our unique and growing data set in the process.

Thus, we join the Challenge with open eyes and ears, in service to human welfare. To learn more about our cause-based partnerships visit: planet.com/impact.

LA to Vegas in 52 Seconds

Interstate 15 hosts over one million road trips from Los Angeles to Las Vegas every month. Rising over mountains and stretching across broad, open deserts, “the fifteen” brings weekend travelers from the bustling commercial hub of Southern California’s west coast to the ever-popular inland entertainment destination. In light traffic, the drive takes a little over four hours; in heavy traffic, it can take eight or more; by jet airplane, one hour gate to gate. Recently, one of our Dove satellites also made the trip, from (directly above) Los Angeles to (directly above northern) Las Vegas, all while acquiring imagery along a swath several kilometers wide. It covered the distance in 52 seconds.

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Our Dove’s 200+ mile trip across Southern California and Southern Nevada. Image credit: Rob Simmon/Planet Labs. Made with Natural Earth

It is well-known that satellites fly in space, high above the atmosphere. Somewhat less well-appreciated is just how fast they move. Each of our Doves circles the entire planet about fifteen times per day, collecting gigabytes of data and monitoring changes all over world.

If you rode aboard a Dove and looked down, this is what you would see:


52 seconds from Los Angeles to northern Las Vegas, acquired February 9, 2015, shown actual speed. Image credit: Rob Simmon/Planet Labs

A question I sometimes hear from friends outside the industry is: why one would choose to collect imagery via satellite instead of, say, drone aircraft? After all, airplanes are more familiar, and they fly closer to the ground, so they can see finer details. (The “satellite” imagery one sees of populous areas is often taken from airplanes, not satellites, for precisely this reason).

In fact, satellites have many advantages over airplanes: safety, privacy, regulatory, and environmental considerations among them. But as our little Dove’s “road trip” so clearly demonstrates, the greatest advantage may be speed. It would take hundreds of aircraft operating simultaneously to match the area collection rate of a single Dove—and scores more to rotate in during maintenance and refueling. And our Doves orbit the world non-stop at this incredible pace for many months before finally burning up harmlessly in the upper atmosphere.

Drones and aerial reconnaissance planes do have applications, of course. Airplanes can more easily acquire very high-resolution imagery of concentrated urban areas or special events. They can fly under high clouds. And one could hardly ask a satellite to, say, inspect the underside of a bridge. But if the goal is to learn about the whole world—not just its islands of dense human habitation—then a flock of Doves may be just the ticket.

For further reading, see Randall Munroe’s colorful discussion of orbital speeds.

Ad astra!

The Deployment We’ve Been Waiting For

blog deploy image image courtesy of NASA

This week, twelve of our Doves were deployed from the Kibo Experimental Module of the ISS. Ten of our Flock 1b Doves and two Flock 1d’ Doves are now traveling at 8km per second 400km above Earth.

An astronaut from ISS Mission 42 captured stunning, hi-res photos of our first Flock 1b deployment at 6:30am PST on February 27, 2015. Check out these animations our team created using NASA imagery:





The successful deployment of Flock 1d’ (March 2, 2015) proved to be a cathartic moment for our team. A little background: on October 28, 2014, twenty six of our Flock 1d Doves were lost in the Antares explosion. These Doves were packed with several important technical demonstrations that we were unable to test in orbit. Immediately following the explosion, our team assembled two Flock 1d’ Doves in just 9 days to replace the lost Flock 1d Doves. Our ISS orbit deployment partner, Nanoracks, snapped into action, helping us secure a ride for Flock 1d’ aboard the SpaceX-5 Falcon 9 CRS-5 mission to the ISS, which launched on January 10, 2015.

Flock1dpanelsFlock 1d’ doves with messages from the team

The Planet team, friends, and family gathered together this week to watch the Flock 1d’ deployment. After a handful of delays, Flock 1d’ successfully deployed at 7pm PST on March 2, 2015. Our Mission Ops Team will closely monitor their health as they detumble and begin regular operations.

We’re thrilled to begin testing these new Flock 1d’ technologies. This deployment series validates our iterative approach to satellite design/manufacturing, and more importantly, pushes us one step closer to our primary goal: to image our entire planet every day.

A Warm Backup in a Cool Place

From our founding, Planet Labs has been designed to be a resilient company. Our entire approach to agile aerospace, from the engineering of our satellites to the diversity of our launch partners, helps ensure high reliability and redundancy of our products and services. Our latest step has been an exciting new partnership with the Icelandic arm of Advania, one of the Nordic countries’ leading IT companies.

Iceland famously generates vast amounts of ultra-green electricity – about seventeen terawatt hours’ worth every year. Twenty five percent of this capacity is geothermal in origin, and the rest comes from hydrothermal, making Iceland’s one of the cleanest economies in the world – indeed, but for a few gasoline-powered cars on the road, the country is completely carbon-free.

Many new industries have been enabled by this energy abundance – among most prominent are “green” data centers. It’s easy to see their appeal: in Iceland, data centers are cleaner to power, cheaper to run, and easier to cool — a triple win. For applications where cost and computing trump ultra-low-latency connectivity, Iceland is ideal.

Building on Icelandic President Olafur Grimsson’s tour of Planet Labs last year, Robbie Schingler and Andrew Zolli traveled to the country at the end of 2015 to explore various partnerships in Iceland, and to speak at the Arctic Circle – a summit of countries with an interest in the region. After getting a sense of the local capacity, Robbie and Andrew initiated discussions with Advania and a related company called GreenQloud, a maker of cloud infrastructure software.

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Advania’s Mjölnir Data Center, named for Thor’s hammer

This year, Planet Labs will be creating a “warm” backup our data at Advania’s Thor Data Center, which uses GreenQloud’s platform. Beyond the redundancy that this partnership enables, Iceland is attractive for another reason: it is working toward a regime of strong governmental protections for data that many hope will make it a “Switzerland of Data”. That in turn, is bringing many new customers to this remarkable country, driving further efficiencies. And it’s helping companies like ours ensure that our data will be available to the world no matter what.

Planet Labs Strikes Agreement with Wilbur-Ellis to Enhance AgVerdict® Data Tool

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Fields from Pinal County, Arizona, captured by Planet Labs in August, 2014

We are thrilled to announce our partnership with Wilbur-Ellis to incorporate Planet’s high frequency, wide-area imagery into their AgVerdict data platform.

Growers across the United States use AgVerdict to monitor crop performance, map farmland, maintain records and store data long-term. Michael Wilbur, VP of Data Services and Field Technology at Wilbur Ellis, writes: “We’re excited to work with Planet Labs on this endeavor as the company changes the speed in which agriculture utilizes imagery. Timely and frequent imagery will give our growers the advantage to act immediately, helping them prevent problems and make more efficient decisions to their crop production.”

We here at Planet Labs view the partnership as an opportunity to explore new applications of Planet’s high cadence imagery within the agricultural community. As our constellations evolve, our up-to-date imagery will help Wilbur-Ellis customers monitor growth, manage resources and improve crop yield. Planet Labs brings a unique capability to agricultural markets around the world: high frequency, good resolution, and the ability to scale at micro and macro levels. We are thrilled to work with AgVerdict, a best-in-class agronomic platform that makes a strong offering to the Ag retail community.

About Wilbur-Ellis Company
Founded in 1921, Wilbur-Ellis is a leading international marketer and distributor of agricultural products, animal feed and specialty chemicals and ingredients. By developing strong relationships, making strategic market investments and capitalizing on new opportunities, Wilbur-Ellis has continued to grow its business with sales now over $3 billion. Wilbur-Ellis’ Agribusiness Division is a recognized leader in the distribution and marketing of field technology, nutrition, plant protection and seed products across more than 250 crop segments in the United States.

Planet Labs Raises Series C Funding, Primed for Growth

Big news from our brand new SoMa headquarters: I’m pleased to announce a first closing of a planned $70 million Series C round led by Data Collective. This financing includes a debt facility of $25 million from Western Technology Investment, bringing the total financing to $95 million. I’ve gotten to know Matt Ocko and Zack Bogue well and they’ve added a lot of value as our company has grown. We are thrilled that they’ve stepped up in a big way to lead our Series C. Zachary Bogue, Data Collective’s Co-Managing Partner, will join our board.

This financing comes in the wake of our successful launch of 73 satellites, customers actively using our data, and the recent hiring of Tom Barton as our Chief Operating Officer. Tom was formerly CEO of Rackable Systems (now SGI) and boasts over 25 years of experience managing and advising hardware and software companies.

Take a look at what our returning investors are saying:

“We’re proud that Planet will be our first investment in the DCVC Opportunity Fund, which supports the truly exceptional growth-stage companies in DCVC’s portfolio. The Planet team has driven their company from a brilliant idea in a garage to one of the world’s top ten overall space powers in less than three years, with customers, revenue, and technological advantage commensurate with that position.”
— Matt Ocko, co-Managing Partner of Data Collective

“Planet Labs is on its way to becoming the next great commercial space company.”
— Steve Jurvetson, partner at DFJ; and Board Member of Planet Labs, SpaceX, and Tesla

With strong support from new and returning investors, Tom on board the management team, and a brand new headquarters in the heart of San Francisco, we’re primed to deliver more insights about our changing planet in 2015.

Learn about Planet Labs’ humanitarian, environmental, and enterprise offerings here.

A Look Back: Planet’s Progress in 2014

2015 is shaping up to be a transformative twelve months for us here at Planet Labs. We just announced our first Series C close; our flock of Doves is primed to double in size; and we moved into our new SOMA HQ. Before we look too far ahead, let’s take a breather and revisit five of last year’s big milestones that helped us get here.

1. Major Launches & Deployments


Photo4_Flock1 Release2 An astronaut captured this photo of two of our Flock 1 satellites being deployed from the ISS

We’ve launched a grand total of 93 Doves in 2014. Check out this detailed breakdown:

launches    

2) The Image Gallery Goes Live

In August, we launched our gallery to showcase our high-cadence Dove imagery. It quickly became the most viewed page on our website. Take a look at some of our favorite gallery images so far:
  sabina-fire Sabina Fire California, USA (July 23, 2014). One of our Doves captured an image of this blaze just ten minutes after it was reported. It was a meaningful early use case for our timely satellite data.

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Dawesville Channel, Australia (December 22, 2014). A late-year favorite for its detail and beauty.
  represa-da-tres-marias-full (1) Três Marias Reservoir, Minas Gerais, Brazil (July 31, 2014). Evidence of one of the worst droughts in recent history seen on the shores of one Brazil’s largest reservoirs– another impactful use case for our unique, growing data set.

Remember: these images and others in the gallery are licensed under creative commons. Freely share, use, and remix these images to express yourself, develop useful tools and draw new insights.
 

3) First Public Customers

We worked hard this year to promote our mission of imaging the entire Earth every day.   In October, we struck a multi-year deal with Woolpert, the geospatial services leader. We also announced a partnership with Geoplex to integrate our up-to-date imagery of Australia and New Zealand into crucial disaster detection and cross-industry monitoring tools. We can’t wait to highlight these customer use cases (and others) in 2015.

4) Growth & Key Hires

We capped off a stellar 2014 with a robust recruiting push, hiring top-tier talent from all disciplines– tripling our headcount in just twelve months. In November, we welcomed Tom Barton as our new Chief Operating Officer. Tom boasts over 25 years of experience managing and advising hardware and software companies. We’re confident he’ll help establish us as a leader in the Earth imaging space.
 

5) Big Press

Our CEO, Will Marshall, gave a TED talk in Vancouver this year. His talk was our most viewed piece of social content, surpassing one million views in just two months.

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Some highlights from New York Magazine’s Planet Labs profile:

NYmag


“I cannot emphasize this point enough: Planet Labs makes actual things, things you can hold in your hand, things that go to outer space. For a guy who’s used to being pitched on beta-version apps, crowd-funding projects, and incomprehensible cloud platforms, the idea of a start-up making something as tangible as a satellite makes me deliriously giddy.”

“But it was refreshing to see, in the course of an hour-long visit with a little satellite company, that the higher, better ambitions of Silicon Valley are still alive and well.”

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Our CTO, Chris Boshuizen, talks through our Dove flocks with NASA:

 

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Last year’s growth trajectory was steep, but we’re aiming even higher in 2015. Learn more about our product offerings here. If you’d like to join our mission, apply here.
 

Two More Doves in Space

Exciting times here at Planet Labs! Today at 1:47 a.m. PST, SpaceX launched 2 Dove satellites aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40. The Doves, along with 5,000 pounds of supplies, are on the way to the International Space Station (ISS). A few weeks after they arrive at the Space Station the satellites will be released into free flight from the NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer.

These Doves, known as Flock 1d Prime, are special to Planet Labs because their completion and launch required incredible commitment and ingenuity from our team. Remarkably, we squeezed 14 tech demos into 2 satellites, in just 9 days. The new satellites replicate hardware improvements and experiments from the flock of 26 Doves destroyed during the October failure of an Antares rocket. This demonstrates in near-real time what we mean when we say ‘agile aerospace.’

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Doves ready to go with messages from the team! Cheers to Ben Howard, one of our engineers who calculated the thermal impacts of the writing on the sides of the satellites.

This flock (carried by a Dragon cargo spacecraft) is scheduled to arrive at the ISS in two days. They’re nestled alongside 17 student experiments which were also quickly rebuilt after the loss of Antares.

Another test was of the Falcon 9 rocket itself—SpaceX designed the first stage to be reusable. Instead of crashing back to Earth, the stage re-fired its rockets after separation, and landed, though a hard landing, on a 300-foot-long, 170-foot-wide (91-by-52-meter) “autonomous spaceport drone ship” in the Atlantic Ocean.
Performing this maneuver is early evidence that spacecraft can be reusable and will reduce the cost of future launches. Congratulations to SpaceX for attempting this unprecedented maneuver, and thanks for successfully delivering our Doves to orbit.

Planet Doves Launching on SpaceX Falcon 9

UPDATE: Launch is scheduled for Saturday, Jan, 10, 2015, 1:47 AM PST

UPDATE: Today’s countdown has been aborted. Pending resolution, next attempt is Friday, Jan 9, at 5:09 a.m EST / 2:09 a.m. PST. And these words from Commander Hadfield:

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch Dragon CRS-5 (5th mission of the Commercial Resupply Services contract) carrying two of our Doves to the International Space Station. The launch is scheduled for 6:20 a.m. EST from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40. These two Doves will meet our Flock 1b satellites awaiting deployment from ISS and they will be deployed within a month or two. We are thrilled to be launching our latest technology on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
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Photo from SpaceX
Falcon 9 is a 2-stage rocket and is scheduled so that 3 minutes after launch, it will separate with the first stage firing up its own rocket engine to continue the trip. Then the first-stage is slated to relight its rocket engines and go through a complex series of maneuvers to put itself safely down on a 300-foot-long, 170-foot-wide (91-by-52-meter) “autonomous spaceport drone ship” in the Atlantic Ocean.

We are all rooting for the Falcon 9 to deliver our Doves and to achieve this unprecedented maneuver! A big thank you to Nanoracks, SpaceX, and NASA for making this happen.

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