Planet Pulse

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

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.

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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:

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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.

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

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.

An Unthinkable Impact


When I was a boy, my father gave me a copy of Hiroshima by John Hersey. He also gave me a pencil, and told me to make a mark in the margin when I found a passage of particular interest.

When the bomb fell, and the white light flashed—repeating over and over through the perspective of Hersey’s interviewed survivors—I ticked the margin again and again. But after a few chapters of melted glass, rubbled streets and obliterated flesh, I had to put my pencil down.

Seventy years ago today, as many as one-hundred-fifty-thousand people died after a weapon of mass destruction was dropped on their breakfast tables. The geopolitical wisdom of the bomb remains a fixture of historical review. Emperor Shōwa appeared to have no intention of surrendering to conventional attack, and was preparing to mobilize a civilian force of millions to defend mainland Japan. Historians posit that Truman had his eye on the Soviets, and a vested interest in impressing upon them American superiority.

The moral wisdom is more difficult to reconcile. Today, it’s challenging to accept that American GIs carried “Little Boy” at the directive of a handful of military advisors—and that the weather not long before the attack arbitrarily fated Hiroshima to a flash-cooked hell—and that the radiation doses followed survivors for days, weeks and years afterward.

This morning, a Dove satellite slipped quietly over the epicenter of the Hiroshima attack and snapped this picture:

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The image was tucked in memory for a little over five hours, and then downlinked to a web-enabled ground station. In that time, the citizens of Hiroshima ate breakfast and lunch. They read the newspaper and exchanged emails. Bought stock. Argued about politics. Boarded trains.

And they rang the Peace Bell, to remember those that perished, and renew their hope for the future. Seventy years ago, flying fortresses flew over Japan and obliterated hundreds of thousands. This morning, a dove took their picture as the Peace Bell rang.

Data, Data Everywhere: Insights from Three Days at InfoAg

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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.

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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: https://info.planet.com/ag/ or email me at Ryan.Schacht@planet.com.

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.