Planet Pulse

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

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 disaster-response@planet.com.

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 disaster-response@planet.com.

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.

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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.

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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.


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


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


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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.

Blast Off! Planet Labs Satellites Successfully Launched Aboard Dragon Capsule

And we have lift off! Today at 4:10pm EDT, fourteen Dove satellites (Flock 1e) were launched on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral. This unmanned mission, dubbed CRS-6, will ferry essential supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). Our satellites are currently resting in the Dragon Capsule’s pressurized cargo space as secondary payload.

Once the Dragon Capsule docks with the ISS, the satellites will be unloaded, remaining snug in their Nanoracks deployers. In a handful of weeks, they’ll be deployed two-by-two into low Earth orbit (LEO).

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The Planet Labs team cheers as the Falcon 9’s stage one booster successfully detaches

Another key aspect of CRS-6, was the stage one recovery attempt. Minutes into the launch, the Falcon 9 stage one booster detached, falling back to Earth, where it was scheduled to make a precision landing on a drone platform floating in the Atlantic.



While this attempt won’t be deemed a total success, it eclipses January’s attempt, which ended in flames. As SpaceX closes in on full stage one recovery, the future of affordable spaceflight brightens.

In just under two years, we’ve launched 12 satellite iterations (113 Doves total) across ten launches. As our constellation grows (and Dove capabilities increase), we’re inching closer to daily imaging of our dynamic planet.

A big congratulations to our partners at NASA, SpaceX and Nanoracks for a successful CRS-6 launch!

Planet Closes Larger-Than-Expected Series C Round

Today, we are excited to announce that we have closed our Series C financing at $118 million with the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a division of the World Bank Group, being the lead investor in the 2nd closing. This gives Planet the capital to scale our satellite constellation, to support business development, sales, and to develop our data products.

The IFC’s venture capital division saw the opportunity for Planet Labs data to make a global impact. “Satellite imagery is an important tool for economic development and disaster risk response, and Planet Labs’ datasets can help bridge the information gap many emerging markets now face. IFC’s investment will help ensure more companies and communities in developing countries have the information they need to grow in a smart and sustainable way,” said Nikunj Jinsi, Global Head of Venture Capital at IFC.

Steve Jurvetson, partner at DFJ and Board Member of Planet, SpaceX, and Tesla said: “Using a development and design model similar to building software programs, Planet’s agile aerospace approach is allowing them to do things that no other space company before it has been able to achieve. I’m excited to see such a high interest in a company that’s on its way to becoming a global leader in commercial satellites.”

As a global finance body, the IFC validates Planet as a company attracting international interest and can help us connect with potential partners in emerging economies. Furthermore, as our constellation grows, so does our commitment to planetary stewardship, so we love the fact that they keenly support our humanitarian ambitions.

Learn more about our Impact initiatives.

A note: This post is an update to our financing announcement in January. The $118m includes $25m in debt financing and $93m in Series C.

14 Doves Bound for ISS on SpaceX CRS-6 Launch

UPDATE: Launch has been scrubbed. CRS-6 launch now scheduled for Tuesday April, 14, 2015, 4:10 pm EDT

Fourteen more Doves are heading to the ISS. On Monday, April 13, 2015, our Doves will launch as secondary payload on SpaceX’s Dragon CRS-6 ISS resupply mission. The launch is scheduled for 4:33 pm EDT from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40. CRS-6 is the sixth of twelve ISS resupply missions on SpaceX’s slate.

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CRS-5 Launch from Cape Canaveral (January 10, 2015). Image: SpaceX.


Back in January, SpaceX made an attempt to land a reusable first stage Falcon 9 rocket. The attempt was almost successful; they were so close. SpaceX will make another first stage recovery attempt on Monday. The Falcon 9 booster will attempt a precision landing on a floating drone ship in the Atlantic. If the recovery is successful, it will be a huge step towards affordable spaceflight. Learn more about the Falcon 9 launch vehicle.

We’ll be watching the launch and recovery attempt at Planet HQ on NASA TV’s live stream:

Planet Labs Partners With Canadian Remote Sensing Giant, C-CORE

We’ve struck a multi-year agreement with C-CORE, the research and development company that’s home to Canada’s highest concentration of remote sensing expertise. C-CORE’s team uses existing Earth observation technology to monitor things like mine and well sites, pipelines, ice environments, intrusion and integrity monitoring of infrastructure, and climate change impacts. We aim to develop products and services with the C-CORE team using our unique satellite imagery data.

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Planet Labs image of Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, Canada, captured on November 14, 2014.

The innovative team at C-CORE works with customers across enterprise energy, security, transportation, and sustainability sectors. With our high-frequency, wide-area data set, the C-CORE team can monitor our changing planet at micro and macro levels. We can’t wait to discover a wide array of meaningful, new data applications with the help of C-CORE’s unmatched expertise.

Dr. Charles Randell, C-CORE’s President and Chief Executive Officer, writes: “We are thrilled to have access to this data. Planet Labs’ high-density constellation of optical satellites will image our world at a scale previously unavailable. This daily, high-resolution imaging enables C-CORE to provide an unprecedented level of service. Our remote sensing team is modifying our data analysis and interpretation services and developing new applications that take full advantage of this capability. As Planet Labs increases the size of their constellation, we are finding new ways to use the data to monitor events and changes here on Earth.”

Early partnerships like this are crucial to Planet Labs’ growth; we’re excited to work with this expert team and discover new data applications in the process.

More about C-CORE:
C-CORE is a Canadian ISO 9001-registered research and development (R&D) corporation that creates value in the private and public sectors by undertaking applied research and development, generating knowledge, developing technology solutions and driving innovation. With unparalleled harsh-environment expertise, C-CORE has world-leading technical capability in Remote Sensing, Ice Engineering and Geotechnical Engineering.

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!