Planet Pulse

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

Good Deploy! Eight More Doves in Orbit

It’s been an exciting few days for me and my fellow Spaceship Captains here at Planet Labs. Eight of our Dove satellites deployed from the International Space Station yesterday (May 17, 2016).

Astronaut Jeff Williams captured these incredible photographs of two Doves during deployment:

flock 2e prime deployer crop Two Flock 2e’ Doves coming out of a Nanoracks deployer. Image: NASA

Flock 2e prime deploy Earth crop Two Flock 2e’ Doves above Earth. Image: NASA

flock 2e prime array crop Two Flock 2e’ Doves pass the Space Station’s massive solar array. Image: NASA

And—just for kicks—here’s an animation of the deploy we created using Jeff’s images. Take a look:


As Planet’s “Grand Commissioner”, I’m happy to report that all eight satellites are happily making their way through our automated commissioning process. This process includes detumbling the satellite, calibrating sensors, deploying solar panels, and testing the Dove’s basic functions.

In a few weeks, these Doves will begin their normal imaging operations. I’d like to give a big thanks to our friends at Nanoracks and NASA for coordinating the release of our Doves.

Here Come the Satellites: Flock 2e and Flock 2e’ to Deploy

Right now, eight Dove satellites are on board the International Space Station (ISS), packed in Nanoracks deployers, and ready to take flight. A mix of Dove satellites from two Planet Labs flocks—Flock 2e and Flock 2e’—will deploy into orbit over the course of one day: May 17, 2016.

Our Doves will be deployed two at a time, over four deployment windows. When the Doves are deployed, the spring-loaded deployer opens its doors, pushing the Doves into orbit at a relative speed of about 1 meter per second. It looks like this:

A cosmonaut captures the July 13, 2015 deployment of Planet Labs Flock 1e

NanoRacks already successfully deployed other cubesats this morning (May 16, 2016):

Team Planet sends a big congrats to the teams that have their satellites in orbit!

This round of deployments is particularly important to us at Planet. Two of our next-generation satellites will be tested on orbit for the first time. These technology demonstrations are the thirteenth iteration of our satellite design.

It will be an exciting few months for our Mission Control team. These eight Doves, are the first in their flocks to be deployed and we expect the remaining 24 satellites from Flock 2e and Flock 2e’ – also aboard the ISS – to deploy in the coming months.

To stay up to date with our deployments, follow @planetlabs and @dovesinspace on Twitter. @dovesinspace tweets as each new satellite in orbit makes first contact. As always, astronauts will capture the deployments with their trusty cameras from the windows of the Space Station. Stay tuned for an update with some incredible astronaut photos!

Fort McMurray Wildfire Data Available Under Open License

The recent wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alberta has devastated the local community. Our thoughts are with those affected by the fire and those aiding the swift response.

In an effort to help responders, we’re releasing imagery of the area under an open license. The imagery is now available for download under a CC-BY-SA license. We’re also permitting tracing of the imagery on Open Street Map.

Smoke shrouds Fort McMurray. Image captured by a RapidEye satellite on May 6, 2016. Labels added. Image ©2016 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0 and © OpenStreetMap contributors.

If you’re interested in contributing to relief efforts, you can download our imagery immediately from the planetlabs-disaster-response S3 bucket, 201605-Fort-McMurray folder.

> aws s3 ls s3://planetlabs-disaster-response/201605-Fort-McMurray/

You can find more details and instructions here.

If you’d like to browse and analyze this imagery data on Planet’s online platform (API or online browser), email

Ecuador Earthquake Data Available Under Open License

The devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Ecuador on Saturday has taken hundreds of lives and displaced thousands. Ordinary citizens, rescue crews and aid workers are doing everything they can on the ground to help survivors, assess damage, and direct relief efforts.

We want to help. Planet’s imagery of the region is now available under an open usage license (CC BY-SA), and is traceable on OpenStreetMap. This data includes pre- and post- quake imagery collected by our Dove and RapidEye satellite constellations. Imagery collected between April 16 and April 20 is currently available.

Portoviejo, Ecuador. Captured by a RapidEye satellite on April 19, 2016

We will continue to release relevant imagery to help first responders on the ground and the community of digital humanitarians, mapping this disaster from afar.

If you’re interested in contributing to relief efforts, you can download our imagery immediately from the planetlabs-ecuador-earthquake-201604 S3 bucket. If you’d like to browse and analyze this imagery data on Planet’s online platform (API or online browser), email

Three Years in Space

On this day in 2013, Dove 2 escaped the surly bonds of Earth aboard a Soyuz 2-1A rocket (along with an unsuspecting and ill-fated crew of 45 mice, 8 gerbils and 15 geckos and some friends). The launch, on a sunny day at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, proceeded perfectly and first contact was made on the first set of passes (Sunday, 21 April 2013) over a rental dish in Palo Alto.

Dove 2’s Soyuz launch

This was a primordial time in the history of Planet Labs. We were named “Cosmogia” then, and the manufacturing line was inside a $100 greenhouse that we dubbed a “clean-enough room”. Dove 2 was a fourth generation Dove (Build 4.5 to be exact), nicknamed “Jillian”, that was going to be our first satellite to enter space. Would our consumer-grade electronics survive the cold, dark, irradiated reality of outer space? Would we even find the satellite after launch? Was Agile Aerospace a pipe dream? But aboard Jillian was a little CPU named “Merlin”, and magic was inevitable.

cosmogia mug
Dove 2 looking glamorous, next to a collector’s edition Cosmogia mug

As our first launch, Dove 2 had the auspicious goals of transmitting a health packet, detumbling, and downloading an image (just one image would do). Dove 2 took almost 1000 pictures, all of them manually scheduled via a fancy spreadsheet and some deft real-time copy/pasting. Two of the images were manually rectified to a basemap.

bad japan One of the first Dove 2 images: Kakegawa, Japan

snow One of the first Dove 2 images: sea ice, in the Gulf of Bothnia

Dove 2 accomplished all of its mission objectives, proved that the fundamental assumptions of Agile Aerospace were sound, and demonstrated Planet’s value ahead of closing the Series A funding round in June 2013.

As Planet’s Vice President of Mission Operations, it’s been exciting and fun to watch Planet grow. Since Dove 2’s launch, we’ve successfully launched 133 satellites, including our newest design: Build 13; our ground station network has expanded from a few rental dishes to our own network of 15 dishes; and we’re now beaming down terabytes of imagery data a day, processing it automatically in our data pipeline, and making it available online.

And Dove 2 started it all.

Illegal Gold Mine Encroaches into Protected Rainforest

From the beginning, Planet’s constellation of Dove satellites has been built around high-frequency imagery with the goal of near-real-time observation of change.

Today, we saw one of the most striking examples of this value proposition. As part of Planet’s Ambassadors Program, analysts at the Amazon Conservation Association used high-frequency Planet imagery to map illegal gold mining in Southern Peru.

Peru’s El Comercio newspaper cited Daniela Pogliani, executive director of the Association for the Conservation of the Amazon Basin on the illegal activity: “The images show an alarming trend of an activity that expands into new areas with terrible effects on the natural heritage.”

Since the price of gold skyrocketed after the global financial crisis, gold mining has been rampant in Peru’s Madre de Dios province. But as mines on land designated for legal extractions have depleted, miners have crossed into the Tambopata National Reserve, which El Comercio calls “one of the most biodiverse forests in the world.”

maap 3
Planet Labs imagery reveals illegal mining within the Tambopata National Reserve (south of the green boundary). Courtesy Amazon Conservation Association

The work of the Amazon Conservation Association is supported by Planet’s Ambassadors Program, and led by Matt Finer, an ecologist at ACA. To learn more, see our Planet Stories post, visit, and visit the MAAP Project website.

Get Definitive Skytruth with Esoterra

We’ve been hearing for months from YouTube commenters, chat rooms, and paranormal investigators that no suitable skytruthing solution currently addresses their rigorous needs. Well, Planet Labs has built the solution to address that gap.

We call it the Esoterra Browser.

Esoterra is our fully-integratable, cloud-based solution that catalogs and maps unexplained fringe events and areas of unique, supernatural interest. In just one week, we’ve successfully captured and orthorectified over 5 million square kilometers of enigmatic Earth imagery including: haunted amusement parks, mysterious islands, and ancient alien geoglyphs.

“We’re really going after new markets here. Our Doves are imaging everywhere, every day— they have a real knack for being in the right place at the right time. Esoterra’s a game-changer for reality TV producers, and tabloid editors,” writes Tony Campitelli, SVP Marketing, Planet Labs.

And the applications are endless. Unsure if the truth is out there? Well, just pop open Esoterra and take a look at Area 51… hedge funds can gain invaluable economic insights by counting every vehicle parked in this restricted area:
Area 51, Nevada. Captured April 1, 2016

Precision agriculture experts can monitor field stresses caused by pests, disease, and extraterrestrials.
Our Esoterra change detection algorithm detects crops under stress in California’s Central Valley. Captured on March 27, 2016

International logistics managers can track vessels in the Atlantic Ocean’s paranormal shipping lanes.
Bermuda, Captured on March 23, 2016

Futures traders can discover hidden commodities in the jungle.
El Dorado, Mexico. Captured on March 22, 2016

Local governments can track the movements of temperamental Kaijus with timely before and after disaster imagery. (A note: current resolution allows for Class-2 Kaijus and above)
Kansai International Airport, Runway B. Captured on March 24, 2016

With Planet’s high resolution imagery, tabloids will no longer need grainy black and white imagery to document mysterious sightings.
Loch Ness, Scotland. Captured on March 22, 2016

Esoterra Browser is making supernatural Earth imagery visible, actionable, and accessible. To browse Esoterra imagery, visit our online gallery.

Get Imagery Faster: Introducing Our Super-Fast New Web Tiles

The Planet Platform was designed to be web-first. Planet’s imagery can be downloaded and processed locally, but many of our users enjoy viewing imagery data through a browser. To provide a good experience, all imagery on the Planet Platform needs to be available instantly as web tiles for immediate visualization and interaction.

We’re happy to announce that we just launched our new web tile service—this means faster imagery for everyone. With this release, our performance data show a 2x speedup in the average time it takes to serve a tile. The biggest gains are in the higher percentiles: it used to be that the slower tile requests could take over one minute to process. Check out the “before” chart below; it illustrates the average imagery request latency over a day.

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 3.05.00 PM

The spikes indicate that the server took a much longer time to process tile requests. The spike on the far right means that it took 59.04s for the tile server to respond.

Now check out this “after” chart:

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 3.21.46 PM

This chart is generated from monitoring the new web tiles service over the course of a day. At first glance, request latency looks much higher! But the y-axis measures milliseconds. The blue line is the average request latency and the orange dotted line is the latency in the 95th percentile. This means even requests that are slower than average are not that much slower i.e. no more huge spikes.

So what’s changed? The majority of the speed increase between graphs is from performing part of the computation eagerly instead of on-demand. This is also our first deployment on Elastic Beanstalk which is part of the Amazon Web Services (AWS) suite. Elastic Beanstalk provides some tools which we use for auto-scaling and monitoring the health of the web tiles cluster.

At the moment, the new web tiles server is only serving RapidEye imagery, but we’re looking forward to rolling it out for PlanetScope and Landsat imagery soon.

If you’re a Planet Platform user, you can log in to test out our newer, faster web tile server today. If you’d like to get a Planet Platform account, sign up here.

World Agri-Tech Investment Summit: The Big Takeaways

I’m Ryan, a Planet Labs Agriculture rep—I work to get our satellite imagery into the hands of decision makers in the agriculture industry, whether they work in an office or in the field.

Last week I was in San Francisco attending the World Agri-Tech Investment Summit. The conference explored growing technology trends in the agriculture industry and in the investment community. Check out my rundown of interesting conference takeaways:

The Beginning

First up was the Planet Labs-hosted welcome reception. Almost 200 people kicked off the conference in the Planet Labs “Mothership”.

Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 9.43.57 AM

We had a blast kicking off the conference Planet-style, with drinks, snacks, satellites, and good company. It was a great start to a fun and fruitful conference.

The Takeaways

1) Keep it simple
Growers want technology that is proven and easy to use. Planet Labs offers a global, authoritative reference layer for farm management decision support. Because we offer the highest frequency & broadest coverage high resolution satellite imagery, a grower knows they can rely on receiving imagery of their land when they need it.

2) Farming is still a relationship business
Many growers rely on trusted advisors to make technology recommendations.

3) Field testing and ROI validation is key to grower adoption
Growers can’t waste time testing new and unproven technologies, they need to focus on what works. Planet is the world’s leading provider of agricultural satellite imagery. We partner with leaders in precision agriculture—companies committed to helping their growers benefit through imagery technology.

4) Machine learning and computer vision will be interesting to watch
There’s no shortage of data; whether that’s coming from the field or remote sensors. There are many new ways to monitor crop health. Machine learning and computer vision is a promising field that can help growers turn massive volume of data into actionable information.

After a week of meetings, workshops and keynotes with some of the world’s ag-tech leaders, it’s clear that that smart farms and precision agriculture are revolutionizing the way we get crops in the field onto your dinner table. It’s an exciting space to be in.

Learn more about satellite imagery’s role in the precision agriculture movement.

Meet Brice Ménard, Planet Labs Ambassador and Scientist-in-Residence

When Planet launched the Ambassador’s Program a few weeks ago, we expected applications from all manner of Earth scientists. And indeed, innovative ideas have been coming in from geologists, cryosphere experts, forest ecologists and others.

But one application was, well, out of this world. Brice Ménard is a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Johns Hopkins University. In 2014 Brice was awarded the prestigious Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering. Among other things, the fellowship will support his work to develop novel techniques to estimate the distance of galaxies.

Brice has been working on the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, an effort to map the sphere of the sky which has generated one of the largest astronomical datasets. The similarity with Planet’s dataset for the surface of the Earth was uncanny:

“While astronomers have been looking up, observing the sphere of the sky, orbiting satellites have been pointed downward, attempting to image the sphere of Planet Earth. Interestingly, these two groups of people share many tasks and challenges. They just happen to look in opposite directions.”

Read about about Brice’s work, and his plans as a Scientist in Residence. And watch this, uh, “space” for updates on his work with Planet’s unique dataset.