Planet Pulse

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

A Commitment to Sustainability

Seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (or Global Goals) ratified last week by the United Nations will guide the international community towards a better planet over the next fifteen years.

I traveled to the United Nations Headquarters in New York to represent Planet Labs at the UN Sustainable Development Summit. I discussed how our data, as well as the technologies of other private companies, will play a crucial role in meeting the Global Goals.

This was a double honor. Firstly, the UN events are typically limited to representatives of nation-states, normally heads of state, and Planet was one of 2 companies (out of 50 speakers) invited to speak at this dialogue. It is a privilege to be recognized as being sufficiently important to the global agenda to be invited to speak. Secondly, and on a more personal note, I think the vision of the UN, what it stands for, is an absolutely fantastic one for the world. As the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said, “The UN Charter serves as our beacon; let us never relent on our path”. I was honored to attend to represent Planet. But “represent” is what it was; I wouldn’t have been invited if it wasn’t for the dedicated work of the whole team at Planet, of which I am proud to be a part.

Below is the full text of the speech we gave on the floor of the UN.

IMG_1062I represented Planet Labs at the Interactive Dialogue on Protecting our Planet and Combating Climate Change.

It’s an honor to address this Interactive Dialogue at the Sustainable Development Summit after the historic adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals. Thank you to the President of the General Assembly and the co-chairs of the Dialogue for this opportunity.

It is deeply heartening that the United Nations recognizes the role and the value of the private sector, and companies such as Planet Labs, and others here today. Our presence signals our common commitment to addressing critical global challenges.

As your Excellencies know, we are in the midst of a communications revolution, much of it driven by the private sector. Since the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals, the growth of mobile phone use and wireless internet connectivity has been staggering, and they have become indispensable tools for inclusive sustainable development everywhere.

Likewise, we are now in the early stages of a new technology revolution – a global sensing revolution. In the decade to come sensors in our pockets, in the oceans, in the air, and in space will help us understand the changing world as never before.

Our company, Planet Labs, operates the largest constellation of Earth imaging satellites in history. Our goal is to do something truly unprecedented: to image the entire Earth, every day, and to make change on our planet visible, accessible and actionable.

Satellite imagery online today is typically years old, which presents a challenge because you can’t fix what you can’t see. Having imagery daily shall enable us to see our effects fast enough to act. It helps us to make the invisible visible.

Relevant here, this data can help us measure progress on the SDGs, filling in critical gaps in our understanding of our changing planet in order to help improve people’s lives and protect biodiversity.

According to our analysis, Planet Labs’ imagery can be used to directly (or indirectly) advance 15 of 17 SDGs, and help measure more than 70 of their related targets. I’m going to mention three examples:

First, monitoring deforestation, part of Goal 15: Today, we discover evidence of deforestation only after our forests are gone. Planet Labs’ imagery can enable us to monitor forests every day, to see illegal logging and enable proactive intervention.

Second, combating climate change, which is Goal 13: Our imagery can monitor climate change with up-to-date data on the state of the world’s ice caps and carbon stocks.

Third, ending hunger and establishing food security, which is Goal 2: Our imagery can measure the health of crops in every farmer’s field around the world, and provide vital information to them to increase crop yield.

I’m pleased to say Planet Labs is committing to make our data available and accessible to efforts aligned with meeting the SDGs.

And we’re in this for the long-term – to provide scientifically accurate and repeatable data not just for this important global moment, but for all the work that follows.

Planet Labs is collaborating with arms of the United Nations, such as the Secretary-General’s Global Pulse initiative, to explore innovative ways to harness the global sensing revolution for inclusive sustainable development, while protecting privacy and security.

Your Excellencies, in 1965 the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Adlai Stevenson, evoked a concept of a ‘Spaceship Earth’ that would motivate thinking on sustainability for decades to come, and I quote:

“We travel together, passengers on a little spaceship, dependent on its vulnerable reserve of air and soil… preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work, and I will say, the love we give our fragile craft.”

Planet Labs’ data is part of a global sensing revolution that can help us to be better caretakers of Spaceship Earth. We’re excited to work with UN member states, NGOs, and other private institutions, and I invite all other stakeholders to join us in making their data available to the societies they serve. In short, we’re all here because we’re committed to this agenda; Planet Labs data and similar technology can help us to decisively address the Global Goals.

At yesterday’s UN speech, we made clear our commitment to making our satellite imagery open and accessible to any efforts in support of the Global Goals. In this spirit, today at the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data – a side meeting at the UN – we announced an initial commitment of $60 million in imagery of select regions, to enable people to use this data to develop tools and capabilities that will be extensible across the globe. This data will be available through a new Planet Labs initiative called Open Regions, under a creative commons license (CC BY-SA), and will be accessible online through our imaging platform.

Read more about the Open Regions initiative, and watch this video:

Ad astra!

Advancing the Sustainable Development Goals

At Planet Labs, our “Mission 1” is to image the whole Earth, every day and make global change visible, accessible, and actionable. To do that, we’re developing a breakthrough technology platform: a large constellation of small, Earth-observing satellites, ground stations and related software and services that will, in the years to come, produce a complete image of the surface of our world, every day, at 3-5 meters/pixel.

In addition to its many commercial applications, this kind of global, daily imagery can have a transformational impact on many of humanity’s most significant challenges — helping us better monitor and protect fragile ecosystems, ensure resilient infrastructure, manage climate risks, enhance food security, build more resilient cities, reduce poverty, and improve governance, among others.

These are many of the same objectives as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — seventeen global goals which will be ratified by the member states of United Nations this month in New York, and which will then guide the world’s sustainable development efforts until 2030.

Planet Labs is working closely with UN bodies, member states and partner organizations to help advance the SDG process, and to help ensure that the best available technologies and approaches inform our global progress. As part of this, we are profoundly honored that Planet Labs’ CEO, Will Marshall, has been invited to address the formal United Nations Summit on the SDGs on September 27th, as an advocate and representative of new technology’s crucial role in addressing global challenges, particularly climate change.

Each of the seventeen SDGs guiding the international community until 2030. Image courtesy of United Nations

It’s worth pausing to reflect that, when the previous set of global goals, the Millennium Development Goals (or “MDGs”) were ratified in 2000, there were no such thing as an iPhone or Facebook. Yet today, smartphones and social media have become indispensable tools for inclusive sustainable development – it’s hard to imagine many kinds of solutions without them.

Similarly, we’re now in the early stages of a new technology revolution — a global sensing revolution, in which ground-based, aerial and space-based sensors, and new forms of data analytics, will enable entirely new approaches to planetary stewardship.

Together, these new technologies can transform the accuracy, frequency, speed and transparency of our global progress on many of the the global goals, and at far lower cost. Planet Labs’ own, conservative analysis suggests that our data can directly or indirectly inform fifteen of the SDGs, and more than seventy of their related targets.

But in an age of global challenges, no single company, or dataset, will alone be sufficient – it will take many partners, from many sectors of society, working together with many different tools to make genuine and lasting progress.

That’s why Planet Labs has also become an anchor partner of the new Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data. The Partnership is comprised of governmental, nongovernmental, public and private organizations who have come together to advance the use of data tools and principles, build the data capacity of sustainable development community, and foster cross-sector collaboration. The Global Partnership will be launched on September 28th, at a special event from 2-4pm at the Waldorf Astoria hotel. At that event, Planet Labs will be making a very significant announcement. Stay tuned!

When Satellites and Big Data Collide

Satellite imagery is not a new concept; for years companies have been collecting and selling imagery. The more difficult part of the commercial imagery equation is the post-collection analysis. It takes smart engineering and effort to analyze imagery—to turn pixels into insights. Our newest customer, Descartes Labs, is an image analysis startup that’s doing just that.

The Descartes Labs team— spun out of Los Alamos National Laboratory in December 2014— built a platform that uses machine learning and computer vision technology to efficiently analyze satellite imagery.

Just recently Descartes Labs was able to predict quickly and accurately 2015 agricultural corn yields using satellite imagery. See the full project.

Fields of leafy green lettuce and other spring produce border Yuma International Airport. Yuma’s year-round warmth allows lettuce, broccoli, melons, dates, and citrus to flourish. Image: Planet Labs.

According to Descartes, our global, high-frequency imagery will help them refine their analysis for U.S. crops, and extend their analysis to “smaller sized commercial and subsistence farms in developing countries, where much of the world’s food supply is grown.” When compared to traditional surveying methods, timely satellite data can reduce the time and cost of large scale agricultural analysis.

Our CEO, Will Marshall, commented: “I’m very pleased to get our high frequency, global data set into the hands of Descartes Labs’ top-notch team of imagery experts and data scientists. They’ll help us pioneer fascinating new use cases.”

I know I speak for all at Planet when I say we’re excited to call Descartes Labs a partner and look forward to their brilliant work with our imagery.

Planet Welcomes Ann Mather to Board of Directors

Today the Planet team gets stronger. I am delighted to announce that Ann Mather has joined Planet’s board as our first Independent Board Director.

Ann brings to Planet a wealth of experience and knowledge from decades spent with some of the world’s most dynamic companies. She currently serves on the boards of Google, Netflix , MGM, Shutterfly, and Arista Networks, and formerly served as CFO at Pixar.


When speaking with Ann I knew she would be a fantastic fit: she loves our mission, and I have already learned a great deal from our interactions. Her deep domain expertise in finance and international business is perfectly suited for Planet’s current stage of growth.

“The breadth and scope of Planet’s mission is staggering, and the humanitarian and commercial impact of daily, global imaging is ground-breaking. I absolutely believe in the vision of Will and his team and I couldn’t be more excited to join them for this unprecedented journey.” – Ann Mather
Prior to Pixar, Ann held executive positions at production studio Village Roadshow Pictures, The Walt Disney Company, and Buena Vista Theatrical Division.

It’s an honor to have Ann join our Board of Directors and I’m excited to work with her.

Mapping Water Scarcity with MetaMeta

In the attic of MetaMeta’s Netherlands office, the ceiling presses down on Frank van Steenbergen’s tall frame. “I wish I’d started MetaMeta ten years earlier,” he says, letting a broad smile settle onto his face. Frank, who bounces between Addis Ababa, Pakistan, Nairobi and the Netherlands on a monthly basis, almost never stops smiling. The boundless energy from his team of water resource experts at his NGO, MetaMeta Research, is infectious.

Taye is a Ph.D. resource manager working on a project called “Roads for Water”, designed to harvest rainfall in arid Ethiopia. Abdullah is a Yemeni Master’s student, scouring the water table in villages along the Red Sea, where rivers stopped flowing 30 years ago. Marta is experimenting with salt-tolerant potatoes in Pakistan.

As a Program Manager for Planet’s Impact initiatives, I traveled to the Netherlands to work with Frank and his team—to explore ways in which Planet Labs data can be integrated into MetaMeta’s projects. Over two days, we toured the world using Planet’s satellite data, with Taye from MetaMeta in the driver’s seat. Each scene told a story.

With Taye in command of Planet’s Scenes Explorer, we travelled to northern Ethiopia to examine rural roads. I learned that satellite imagery reveals how roads can affect soil moisture. Where rainwater runs off the road’s surface, crops prosper. Across the road, they die. As part of the Global Resilience Partnership (supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, USAID, and Sida) MetaMeta is exploring the potential for roads to be better planned to capture critical water resources. In East Africa, rainfall is typically scarce and sudden. Roads cover enough land—even in rural areas—to redirect a significant portion of rainfall into retention ponds and storage systems. Such installations would enable more efficient water usage.

The last stop on our tour was Alamata in the Tigray region. Here, the effects of poverty, food insecurity and environmental stressors are plainly visible in Planet data:

A Dove captured water scarcity outside Alamata, Ethiopia. Irrigated fields prosper, others falter.

In this landscape of barley, sorghum and millet, crops thrive where irrigation flows. The scattered green fields are a geospatial signifier of wealth in the region. Those that can afford it, irrigate. Those that cannot dry up.

I chatted with Taye about Planet Labs and his work at MetaMeta:

Taye explains:

I’m visiting the site almost every day, for any kind of change. I have a sense of the dynamism; the rate of change is just enormous…. In Ethiopia we need this kind of data. There are wide areas of application to use this data. Ethiopia has become a very dynamic nation. Change is taking place every day. There is all kinds of development in every corner of the nation: megaprojects in the lowlands; there are road constructions and demolitions. So, its a day-to-day change that couldn’t be addressed with a conventional satellite image. With a 16 day revisit time, you miss a lot; we miss a lot. Changes are happening everyday, so monitoring changes every day…this is no longer a luxury for us. It is a requirement.
In the coming months, Planet will work with MetaMeta Research to enhance the use of roads for water retention in Ethiopia, hunt for long dead Yemeni rivers, and assess the vitality of salt-tolerant Potatoes in Pakistan. Watch this space for updates.

To learn more about our humanitarian partnerships, visit our Impact page.

SAINS to Map Southeast Asia With Planet Labs Data

As I’ve browsed the Planet Labs imagery pipeline over the last year, many of the most striking images I’ve found were of Southeast Asia. It’s truly awe-inspiring to get a glimpse of the region’s natural beauty— and its dynamic urban growth— from Low Earth Orbit. Here at Planet Labs, I lead our international sales efforts, and today, I’m very excited to announce that we’ve entered into an agreement with Sarawak Information Systems (SAINS), an early customer in Southeast Asia.

SAINS, one of Malaysia’s largest Information Communications Technology (ICT) companies, recognizes the immediate value of timely geospatial imagery. Dato Teo Tien Hiong, CEO of SAINS, states: “With over two decades of experience as a major Geomatics and Remote Sensing industry player in the region, we recognise, and are extremely excited about, the business potential of the strategic partnership between SAINS and Planet Labs. I see the strategic relationship as a game-changing opportunity for both Planet Labs and SAINS in providing timely satellite imagery as well as value adding geospatial services and solutions competitively to a wide range of industries in the region.”

kuala-kedah-full Agricultural fields line the sediment-rich mouth of Malaysia’s Sungai Kedah River

malaysia-borneo-full A plantation rests on the banks of the Baram River in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, East Malaysia

The team at SAINS are experts in GIS solutions, software solutions, enterprise network infrastructure, and security solutions. SAINS will integrate our timely imagery data of Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, and the Philippines into a wealth of existing products and services. I’m personally thrilled to see our beautiful imagery in the hands of SAINS’ knowledgeable network of civic and corporate customers.

For more information about Planet, visit our Solutions page.

Meet FARM Limited, Our First Customer in Africa

It’s a big day for me. I’m excited and proud to introduce FARM Limited, my first deal as a new member of the Planet Labs sales team—and Planet’s first Africa-based customer.

FARM aims to boost sustainability and profitability in agriculture by identifying the inherent risks along the agricultural value chain; and managing them with new technologies, including remote sensing. They’re making these new solutions accessible to investors and farmers throughout Africa.

delmas-south-africa-web (1) Central pivot farming envelops a mine near Delmas, South Africa. Image captured on July 13, 2015

“Agriculture is an industry impacted by many unknown variables such as climate change and commodity price fluctuation. Success in agriculture is more often than not determined by one’s ability to manage these variables on a per hectare, per farm level” says Chantal Yazbek, Advisor of Product Innovation at FARM. “We believe that Planet Labs’ game-changing approach to remote sensing and high-value satellite imagery will empower the agricultural industry in Africa by providing it with tangible and timely insight on a ground level. FARM is proud to be pioneering these technological solutions with Planet Labs in Africa.”

I’m personally excited to work with FARM Limited, as they will help us pilot new data applications in Africa’s unique and complex agricultural markets. With the addition of FARM Limited, Planet now has customers and distribution channels on every continent except Antarctica—collecting images across the globe.

To learn more about Planet’s commercial offerings, visit our Solutions page.

101st Dove Satellite Reaches Space

Today, at 4:50 a.m. Pacific Time, team Planet gathered for pancakes to watch Japan’s H-IIB rocket launch the HTV-5 “White Stork” cargo vehicle. The White Stork will deliver fourteen Dove spacecraft to the International Space Station before astronauts release them into Low Earth Orbit.

The launch was successful and marks the 101st Dove to reach space. The HTV-5 executed a smooth flight from the Tanegashima— a small island south of mainland Japan— upward and westward across the Pacific Ocean and into orbit.

htv5 launch good
The H-IIB lifts off. Image: NASA and JAXA

Planeteers trekked into the office early this morning to watch the launch. Remote employees joined via video conference

The HTV-5 is also packed with scientific experiments and 4.5 tons of crucial ISS supplies and replacement parts. The spacecraft is scheduled to berth with the ISS on Monday, August 24. NASA TV will livestream the grappling and docking sequence.

The Doves are scheduled to be deployed from the space station via Nanoracks deployers early this fall.

Planet and GPC Group Team Up to Map the UAE

I’m thrilled to announce our first customer in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region: the Geographic Planning Collaborative (GPC).

The GPC Group’s MENA operations are based in Abu Dhabi, and they will distribute Planet Labs data to their many government, environmental, and commercial customers throughout the region. As our first MENA customer, the GPC Group will field test Planet’s unparalleled, timely dataset in one of the world’s most dynamic regions.

Mark Sorensen, General Manager of the GPC Group, comments that Planet Labs’ “ability to monitor conditions and changes across the planet is going to revolutionize how we manage urban development, water and food security, national security, and all other aspects of sustainable, climate-resilient development.”

dubai-creek-web class=
Dubai Creek is home to a number of high-rises, marinas, and golf courses. Several A380s—the world’s largest aircraft—are visible at nearby Dubai International Airport

Sorensen continues: “We see this as being especially critical for rapidly-developing economies, small island developing states (SIDS), and so-called fragile states, where we tend to do much of our work. We also believe that Planet Labs’ approach to agile aerospace, utilizing nanosatellites and rapid development and deployment cycles, is going to revolutionize the field and make emerging new capabilities available in record time.”

Shallow waters surround the Farasan Islands, a coral archipelago in the southern Red Sea. The island chain, which hosted an oil refinery for much of the 20th century, is now a protected marine area and popular diving destination—home to unique fish, coral, and mangrove species

Planet Labs CEO Will Marshall comments that, “The GPC Group will prove a valuable partner for Planet Labs. I’m excited to work with their in-house GIS experts and their established network of international partners to pioneer entirely new civic, environmental and commercial use-cases for our growing, global imagery dataset.”

To learn more about our imagery data, visit our Solutions page.

Kounotori “White Stork” to Carry 14 Doves to ISS

UPDATE: The HTV-5 launch has been delayed to Wednesday, August 19 at 4:50 a.m. PT, due to unfavorable weather conditions.

UPDATE: The HTV-5 launch has been delayed to Monday, August 17 at 5:35 a.m. PT, due to unfavorable weather conditions. Read JAXA’s release.

Fourteen Doves have made the trip from our lab in San Francisco across the Pacific Ocean to Tanegashima, Japan. This, however, is the first leg of a much longer trip. Their final destination is Low Earth Orbit.

This Sunday, August 16, at 13:01 UTC, the H-IIB rocket will launch from the Tanegashima Space Center, carrying the unmanned Kounotori “White Stork” spacecraft ( HTV-5) to the International Space Station (ISS). The HTV-5 will carry food, water and other vital ISS supplies as primary payload. Our fourteen Doves (Flock 2b) will hitch a ride as secondary payload.

The Kounotori HTV spacecraft. Image: NASA

Flock 2b will have company inside the HTV-5; Japan’s S-CUBE—a 3U meteor observation cubesat— and Brazil’s SERPENS nanosatellite are onboard, too.

After HTV-5 reaches Low Earth Orbit, it will pursue the ISS, accelerating to seven kilometers per second before berthing with the station. Once astronauts load Flock 2b onto the ISS, the Doves will deploy into orbit early this fall, via Nanoracks deployers.

This is a particularly exciting launch for all of us at Planet. With Flock 2b, Planet will have successfully launched 101 Dove satellites into orbit. Sunday also marks our first launch on a Japanese rocket.

Watch the launch for free on Sunday at 6am PST on NASA TV.