Planet Pulse

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

Data, Data Everywhere: Insights from Three Days at InfoAg

InfoAg 2015, day one: exhibition floor

It’s been an eventful week in St. Louis, Missouri for Planet Labs. We attended Info Ag 2015—our first big agriculture industry event.

Planet’s co-founder and president Robbie Schingler, along with other team members, joined me at the conference. I participated in a remote sensing panel, my first public speech as a Planet rep; and Robbie gave the closing keynote, detailing the ways we believe our imagery will make a valuable impact in agriculture.

Robbie Schingler talks “agile aerospace” on the mainstage at InfoAg’s closing session.

It’s clear that the agriculture industry is experiencing massive technological change right now —under the moniker of ‘precision ag’—and is ready for new and novel datasets to increase crop yield and more efficiently and effectively feed people all over the globe. After speaking with many at the conference, the Planet team gleaned a few insights.

High Resolution, Multi-Temporal Adds a New Dimension
For a long time, the Ag industry has lacked multi-temporal high resolution Near Infrared (NIR) and RGB imaging. This spatial/temporal data scarcity issue is ending. There are more imagery providers than ever before, helping farmers and growers with crop health monitoring, yield analysis, scouting, and land productivity analysis.

Global Coverage with Automated, Local Insights
More data is not always a good thing. Farmers are already overwhelmed by having too much data and too many technology choices. The key is to deliver timely and relevant insights in an integrated and automated fashion. Farmers are looking for relevant field- and local-level information that they can integrate with their existing technology providers.

Innovators Are Jumping In
Farmers are developing good relationships with technology providers who understand their profitability goals, input selections, local growing conditions, and crop health issues. These companies are best positioned to turn Planet Labs data into actionable insights. Industry-leading companies are ready to embrace the future of imaging technology, whether that’s Planet’s frequent, global satellite imagery, or drone and aerial coverage.

Planet’s a relatively new player in the Ag industry, and I’m pleased that our whole team was very well received by the Ag community. We learned a lot about the priorities, needs and challenges facing agriculture and met with farmers and partners— like our customers at Wilbur-Ellis— to explore use cases for global, daily Earth imagery.

We’re excited to get back to work, armed with a greater understanding of the Ag community’s needs, to build solutions that advance precision Ag and make a positive impact for those in the field.

To learn more about our agriculture solutions, visit: or email me at

The B-Word

Beware of the B-word—are you as busy as you think you are?

Having been the Chair of SEDS (Students for the Exploration and Development of Space)—a national nonprofit providing leadership and technical experience for young people passionate about space—for two years, I have met hundreds of very smart young people overflowing with potential. Yet I have been frustrated by almost as many of them for not utilizing that potential—not seizing opportunities sitting right in front of them. Time and time again I see students pass up opportunities, or not even recognize the opportunities they have, because they are “too busy.” They’re too busy with homework. They’re too busy studying for a test on Thursday. They’re too busy to do anything on top of work and school. They just don’t have time on top of it all.

When I was a participant in Square’s College Code Camp, an immersion program for young women studying computer science, the group of us sat down with Jack Dorsey for a chat. One student asked the question all busy people are inevitably asked: “You founded Twitter and Square, among the most successful tech companies in the world, and continue to run both of them on top of everything else in your life—and I’m sure you’ve got side projects too. How do you find time to manage all that?”

His response has guided me to this day. “I think of it like a trash compactor. All of these things just keep piling on, and then every now and then, you press all the additional stuff down under you and that becomes the new threshold. All that becomes the new normal.” It’s not like Jack Dorsey had some spare time on his hands after Twitter and thought he’d fill the void by starting Square. Elon Musk was probably pretty busy already when he started the Hyperloop project on top and established a new school, Ad Astra, for his children. Lori Garver went from being the Secretary for the National Space Society to being appointed by President Barack Obama as Deputy Administrator for NASA because she saw opportunities and she took them.

Students’ schedules are tight—you’re taking four or five classes, professors assign things as if you’re only taking one, you’ve got two or three exams on the same day sometimes. Certainly you are busy. In undergrad it is easy to get sucked into the deception that your grades directly correlate with your competence and level of intelligence, and that not having perfect or near-perfect grades will screw you in the long run. I have never once been asked by an employer about my grades in school. In fact, the most frequent question I get from people offering me opportunities is: “Do you have any side projects?” Literally no one cares that I got a C in Mechanics, and neither did I—yet I see students crushed by less than perfect grades.

Many students seem to think the space industry is this upper echelon that they can’t move and shake in until they finish school and get ten years of experience. But the space industry isn’t as exclusive or mystifying as it might seem. It is actually one of the most welcoming communities I have ever experienced, especially for young people because this industry is quite literally dying for young people. The space industry is recruiting like crazy, and nearly every organization, public and private, offers internships for students—and not just for aerospace engineers, but for scientists, economists, software engineers, communicators, mathematicians, nurses, and writers. There are opportunities everywhere, for all areas and levels of study. When I got my first internship at NASA during high school, the response from my classmates (and people to this day) was, “Wow, how did THAT happen?!”

How did that happen? I typed into Google, “NASA internship high school students”.

I spent three summers interning for NASA, then for Planet Labs as an embedded software engineering intern, where I’ve spent the better part of a year. How’d I get that gig? People ask me all the time… I applied through the Jobs page on their website. And don’t be fooled by the word “intern” —the best part about being an intern at Planet Labs is that you don’t do “intern work.” You are treated like any other team member, with responsibilities on par with a full-time engineer. On the Monday of my first week at Planet, I was setting up my workstation, by Wednesday I’d built more than 20 ground stations and radios, and by Friday I shipped code to more than 28 satellites. As an intern at Planet Labs I have been challenged and inspired—and gained more confidence in my technical ability—than during any other internship and my undergraduate career.

Now, there are countless private space companies offering internships in addition to the hundreds offered by NASA and “old space” companies. If you want to do something, you absolutely can find a way to do it. Not only are companies begging for your talent but nonprofits and organizations like SEDS, Space Frontier Foundation, and the National Space Society offer young people leadership positions and the opportunity to make an impact and realize your potential. If you feel like you’ve been turned down a lot, apply for more; reduce the ratio.

Students, don’t let “busy” limit your possibilities. Endless opportunities to make an impact in the space industry are there for the taking. So take them.

There Goes the Satellite

I work in satellite operations—my official title at Planet is “Flock Shepherd”. Part of my job is to help commission our Dove satellites as they enter space, and monitor their health and operations during their life cycle in orbit.

Fourteen Doves were deployed from the International Space Station the week of July 13, 2015—we call these Doves “Flock 1e”. They were deployed two-by-two from the Kibo Experiment Module arm of the International Space Station by a Nanoracks deployer. We’ve contacted all fourteen satellites and they’re all happy and healthy. This week we’re wrapping up our commissioning activities and getting some exciting new images down from our latest and greatest flock of Doves.

Here at Planet, I see pictures from space every day, but I rarely see video of our Doves in space. A cosmonaut captured this video of our recent Flock 1e deployment from the window of the International Space Station while other crew members looked on:

Two Doves from Flock 1e are deployed from the ISS on July 13, 2015.

From a cosmonaut’s point of view, our Doves slowly tumble away into space. The relative speed between our Doves and the ISS is only about one meter per second. This gentle push from the ISS actually puts the Dove in a slightly lower orbit than the space station. In reality, both the ISS and our Doves are traveling over 7 kilometers per second!

The Russian crew member’s commentary in the video roughly translates to: “There goes the satellite! Okay, now we’ll take a look from the other window to see them…there they are. Excellent!”

I can say that this round of deploys truly was excellent. During the next week, Flock 1e will start to capture imagery, and beam it into our data pipeline. Big thanks to NASA and Nanoracks for coordinating the deployments!

Planet Labs To Acquire RapidEye

I’m excited to announce that Planet Labs has entered into a definitive agreement to purchase the BlackBridge geospatial companies, including the RapidEye suite of core offerings. This acquisition welcomes BlackBridge into the Planet family and is a strategic move by Planet to expand quickly into new segments and gain access to a robust imagery archive.

Planet and BlackBridge have great mission alignment and have complementary capabilities. With BlackBridge, we now have access to an extensive network of over 100 distribution channels and customers globally; and RapidEye’s comprehensive archive of six years of global imagery – 6 billion square kilometers at 5-meter resolution – allowing us to bring one of the largest commercial satellite imagery datasets to the web.

RapidEye’s six-year archive of imagery can be “stacked” to enable analytics and change detection algorithms, to provide insights about our changing planet.

Planet’s goal is to provide universal access to information about our changing planet through a platform that includes the daily imaging data from Planet’s fleet of satellites, along with data from various other sources. With the recent incorporation of Landsat 8 imagery into our dataset, and soon RapidEye, Planet is proud to continue progress toward these goals.

The BlackBridge team is impressive and established in the industry. I am personally excited to work with Ryan Johnson, BlackBridge CEO, who I look forward to welcoming onto the Planet executive team. As Ryan says: “The combination of BlackBridge’s downstream knowledge and global reach, with Planet Labs’ strategy for agile aerospace, will create a long-term competitive advantage for the combined company. The ability to lead the industry and adapt quickly to changing needs will be the key to continued success.”

The biggest beneficiaries of this acquisition are our customers – who will be able to receive more data and, with Planet’s automated platform, acquire it with unprecedented speed and ease. Under Planet, Blackbridge will continue to operate the RapidEye fleet of satellites. This gives users in agriculture, energy & infrastructure, consumer mapping, government, business intelligence, environmental & social impact the information they need to be successful.

“Planet Labs is leading the pack of private space companies by combining innovative data analysis and agile aerospace technologies. With today’s acquisition of BlackBridge, Planet Labs has brought this agility to their business and identified a strategic opportunity to advance the market of geospatial data on the web,” says Steve Jurvetson, Board Member of Planet Labs, Tesla, SpaceX and Partner at DFJ.

Together we are stronger. We will provide new and improved services to our customers, who will soon see the benefits of this new alliance.

We’re thrilled to welcome the BlackBridge team to the Planet family.

The transaction is subject to customary closing conditions and is expected to close during the third quarter of 2015.

Read an open letter from BlackBridge CEO, Ryan Johnson. Learn more about Planet Labs.

The SpaceX CRS-7 Mission Failure

We’ve said it before: space is hard.

Today, the unmanned Falcon 9 launch vehicle experienced an anomaly during its ascent, breaking up two minutes into flight. All eight of our Dove satellites (Flock 1f) on board the Dragon spacecraft were lost. Thankfully, no injuries were reported on the ground.

Our sympathies are extended to SpaceX and the space sector more broadly; over 4,000 pounds (1,800 kg) of supplies bound for the ISS, and thirty student experiments were also on board the Dragon Spacecraft. This was the nineteenth overall flight for the Falcon 9 rocket, and SpaceX’s first-ever commercial launch failure.

This is a hard day for Planet Labs but we’ve experienced a launch failure before, and statistically, we will again. With a quarterly launch schedule across a network of international partners, and a highly talented and dedicated team, we will reach our goal of imaging the entire Earth, every day.

To all our peers in the space sector…ad astra!

For information as it develops, watch SpaceX’s webcast.

Eight Dove Satellites to be Launched on SpaceX CRS-7 Mission

Right now, eight of our Dove satellites are packed in their NanoRacks deployers on SpaceX’s Dragon Capsule. We’re calling these satellites “Flock 1f”.

On Sunday, June 28, at 10:21am (EDT), the Falcon 9 Launch Vehicle will launch, carrying the Dragon capsule and Flock 1f to the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX calls this mission: CRS-7, the seventh of twelve SpaceX ISS resupply missions.

The unmanned Falcon 9 rocket will launch in an instantaneous window from Cape Canaveral, Florida. If this launch window is missed by just a few seconds, the Dragon capsule will not be able to “catch up” with the ISS once in orbit. If weather projections hold, we expect the Falcon 9 to launch successfully within this window.

Once on board the ISS, Flock 1f will be deployed in the coming months.

crs-6_water_horizontal_1 (1)
CRS-6 launch from Cape Canaveral(April 14, 2015). Image: SpaceX

Following the launch, SpaceX will attempt to land the Falcon 9 booster on a floating drone ship in the Atlantic for a third time. Previous attempts, though unsuccessful, ended spectacularly. If this third attempt succeeds, and the booster is proven to be reusable, the cost of future launches will lower dramatically.

Watch the launch and the landing attempt Sunday on SpaceX’s livestream.

We’re Partnering with ProGea Consulting to Map Poland

amber-highway-poland (1)
A Planet Labs image of the construction of Poland’s Amber Highway, captured on October 19, 2014. When completed, it will link the Baltic coast of Poland to the Czech Republic.

We’re excited to welcome another key geospatial player to our growing customer base: ProGea Consulting. ProGea will integrate our high frequency, wide-area earth imagery into their database of multi-format geospatial imagery (satellite, aerial, LiDAR) to create a holistic geospatial solution for the Polish market.

“Planet Labs’ frequent, medium resolution Earth imagery will strengthen our world class, 4-D spatio-temporal GIS database”, said Dr. Piotr Wężyk, CEO at ProGea Consulting. “With fresh data, we can transform how we monitor forest land and protected areas like national parks and land from the Natura 2000 Networking Programme.”

We here at Planet Labs are excited to begin work with ProGea Consulting. Their international reach and deep geospatial domain expertise will help us develop new data applications and grow our presence in the European market.

To learn more about our geospatial offerings, visit our Solutions page.

Responding to the Nepal Earthquake

Update (5/13/15): Read this great blog post by Zooniverse to learn how satellite imagery and coordination between many organizations enables relief efforts.

Update: We have just completed a mosaic of our archival, pre-earthquake imagery to aid disaster assessment efforts. For access, email

The devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck late Saturday evening in Nepal is a disaster of the first order, and our hearts break for the thousands of people whose lives have been lost, hurt and deeply disrupted. The tragedy is still unfolding, and timely information and targeted support is urgently needed to ensure that the response is as effective as possible.

The digital humanitarian community has been robustly engaged, and many organizations around the world are contributing data and talent to assist on-the-ground efforts. Facebook has activated its Safety Check service, and Google has done the same with its Person Finder feature, both of which help connect people inside and outside of the affected areas. DigitalGlobe, through its Tomnod effort, has made post-disaster images of Kathmandu available; Mapbox has processed this imagery and provided it to Humanitarian OpenStreetMap.

On the ground, the team at Kathmandu Living Labs is busily coordinating the OpenStreetMap volunteers in getting accurate, timely and mobile-friendly maps and information to first responders.

Many others in the crisis mapping community are also hard at work, including CrisisMappers and Ushahidi (which has a great post on how to support online volunteer response). Governments are participating, too – India, for example, is sending UAVs to help map the destruction.

What Planet Labs is Doing

While Planet Labs’ own imagery and services are still evolving, over the past few months we have captured significant imagery of currently-affected areas in Nepal, including Kathmandu.

20150309_044916_0909_800 A Planet Labs image of urban Kathmandu taken on March 9, 2015

We are engaged participants in the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters, an international space charter that ensures timely satellite data is made available to rescue authorities. Within hours of the earthquake, we began working to make our imagery archive of the region (about 3000 scenes) available to the public on the Hazards Data Distribution System run by the US Geological Survey.

All of our available, public data is provided under a truly open usage license (CC BY-SA), with all tracing of imagery for OpenStreetMap allowed. The open data license means that our imagery will be accessible indefinitely for responders and researchers to analyze and improve response efforts in the future.

Already, organizations as diverse as OpenStreetMap, IFC, World Vision International, and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory have requested data access, and we remain in regular contact with many others involved.

In the days and weeks to come, we will capture additional, post-earthquake imagery, and will provide continuous updates as we collect data. To enable faster access to our raw and mosaicked imagery, we are offering our platform, beta web tools, and API keys to interested parties. If you’re interested in contributing to relief efforts and would like access to our platform, please contact

At Planet Labs, our founding intent is to use space to help life on Earth. We’re constantly improving our hardware capabilities, image quality and data pipeline. We hope to help improve the response to, and diminish the suffering caused by, this terrible tragedy. If you have specific data needs, ideas or suggestions for how we can help, please contact us.

Planet Labs Partners with Geo-Satellite Leader, SNET

When the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami struck Eastern Japan in 2011, Satellite Network (SNET)’s communications network was used as an emergency means of communication by government offices and public service operators. We’re proud to have signed a multi-year deal with SNET, who will use our imagery data to enhance their geospatial capabilities and customer offerings.

Planet Labs image of Akashi, Japan, captured on April 17, 2015

“We’re proud to be a partner for Planet Labs, and look forward to creating meaningful value-added products using their high-density constellation of satellites. Their disruptive business model and high-cadence data set have the potential to spark a sea change in the geospatial industry. Planet’s data will help us develop various monitoring applications that help our customers track crops, illegal logging, wide-scale disasters, brush fires, and security,” said Mr. Bunji Shinoda, President & CEO of Satellite Network, Inc.

This key early partnership will help us crystalize our value-add strategies; and feedback from SNET’s customer base will be invaluable as we further develop our imagery pipeline and grow the Japanese market for Planet data.

To learn more about our geospatial offerings, visit our Solutions page.

More about SNET:
Satellite Network Inc., a subsidiary of Asia’s largest geo-satellite operator, Sky Perfect JSAT Corporation, has over 25 years of experience in satellite network construction and application development ranging from image processing to LTE backhaul installations. Satellite Network, Inc. serves the establishment of a safe and secure society through satellite-based communications and observations.

Look Good While Supporting the Climate Relief Fund

snow-lake data-wp-pid= Left: Lake Balkhash, Kazakhstan taken November 14, 2014; Right: Portage la Prairie, Manitoba Canada taken October 18, 2014

You’ve seen it in the gallery; now put it on your body. Our friends over at Betabrand, San Francisco’s own crowdsourced fashion retailer, designed a capsule collection using our satellite imagery.


Take a look at the collection, and as you do, remember that these prints were captured by a tiny satellite hurtling at 7.8km per second, 240 km above the Earth.

CubeSats are this season’s hottest accessory. Avanti, Operations Extraordinaire, models the Lake-Print Perfect Dress. Image courtesy of Betabrand.

Rob, Spaceship Captain, excels in both Power Systems and fashion modeling. He’s sporting the Ice-Print Jacket. Image courtesy of Betabrand.

Deanna, Spaceship Captain, likes to stay warm while commissioning satellites. Her garment of choice; the Lake-Print Scarf. Image courtesy of Betabrand.

Betabrand uses a crowdsourcing model, manufacturing garments once there’s been proven demand. Be an early backer of this collection while you can to get easy discounts!

While sporting the latest in satellite fashion, you get the added bonus of aiding communities in need. We’ll donate 100% of our proceeds from the collection to the Climate Relief Fund, a nonprofit that supports local disaster relief organizations while helping the public understand the immediacy and urgency of climate change.

The crowdfunding period closes on May 15, so get shopping! See the whole collection.