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Curious Planeteer working to make the Earth's changes visible, accessible and actionable.

Agile Aerospace: Rapid Development of Earth Observation Tech for a Rapidly Changing World


Since Planet’s founding, we’ve successfully built and launched over 500 (!) satellites. We did this by pioneering a new approach to building and launching spacecraft, one that encourages rapid iteration. We call this approach agile aerospace and we’ve been refining this new way of building satellites at scale since 2012 when we first applied it to our flagship Dove satellites. In a break from the traditional way of manufacturing spacecraft (i.e: spending many years and many millions of dollars perfecting a single satellite), we focus on making small, iterative improvements to our hardware in order to optimize our spacecraft architecture. This has allowed us to fail fast, iterate quickly, and provide greater value and impact for our customers by flying the latest, cutting-edge tech on-orbit. In today’s rapidly changing world, the ability to deliver new sensing and measurement technologies with agility is crucial.

A core component to our agile approach, and one that speaks directly to our ability to rapidly develop new technologies at enterprise scale, is our use of technology demonstrations (tech demos) across all of our fleets. The traditional way of building satellites typically locks in technical components early in the design phase, which can lead to a many year gap from the time a particular technology is chosen to the day it is launched in a satellite. To avoid the technical lag associated with this method, we instead prioritize learning by going fast – short design and validation cycles that allows us to test, fail, and iterate along the way, beginning with prototypes and in-space tech demos. We’ll be implementing this approach for our launch of the first Pelican tech demo, TD1. Our updated planned launch window is in the second half of this year. 

The mission of our tech demos is not to capture exquisite data from the start, rather to test new tech on-orbit, gain insight into its performance, and improve the scalability of Planet systems. This approach enables greater flexibility across our mission programs and timing, and establishes a system baseline for us to iterate upon to help deliver greater customer value with the operational fleet. 

As we look towards our future constellations of Pelican and Tanager, we will be applying this agile ethos to our mission designs in a few ways: 

  • We have the infrastructure in place to build three unique satellite systems. If you ventured into our lab in downtown San Francisco, you would see a flurry of activity. Our manufacturing team has configured the space for building Pelican and Tanager simultaneously today, and have the materials in place to spin up our SuperDove satellites when needed. We build with a “just-in-time” philosophy to ensure we’re delivering the latest technology to the launch pad, a process we first developed to build our Dove satellites over 10 years ago. Since then, we’ve built and launched hundreds of Doves that are working to capture a daily, global snapshot of our changing planet, producing a rich archive of every point on Earth. Our Dove satellites are core to our mission of making change visible, accessible, and actionable, and we plan to leverage our best learnings from years of developing the Doves while manufacturing Pelican and Tanager. 
  • Pelican and Tanager will share a common smallsat bus. While each is tasked with a unique mission–Pelican will aim to capture 30cm very high-resolution data, up to 30 times per day by the time the full constellation is in place, while Tanager is designed to deliver hyperspectral data–the modularity and adaptability of the common bus, the body of the satellite that holds the payload’s scientific instruments, will bring faster evolution to each mission, and allow us to build greater resilience and reliability into our mission architecture. These interoperable elements enable our space systems team to make updates as we learn, support new instruments, keep pace with innovation, and deliver new capabilities to the market.
  • Pelican Tech Demo 1 (TD1) is next up for launch. Launching TD1 is an important piece of our mission as it will allow us to incorporate early feedback and learnings into our Pelican and Tanager programs before we launch our commercial-ready satellites. Our team is making solid progress building and testing TD1 and working hard to deliver the spacecraft to orbit this year. We are confident that launching TD1 will help de-risk our future integrations and streamline our focus around priority use cases where we can start delivering value. 
  • Tanager 1 and 2 will follow TD1. The team is simultaneously hard at work on our first two Tanager satellites that we are building in partnership with NASA JPL and the Carbon Mapper Coalition. The first two Tanager satellites will launch after TD1 and aim to deliver hyperspectral data that can identify the spectral signatures of chemicals, materials, and processes across the globe. Given their common bus, we will use data gathered from TD1 to make any needed adjustments before scaling and launching both the Pelican and Tanager fleets. 

We’re committed to pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in order to deliver the best data to our customers. Agile aerospace allows us to keep up with the accelerating pace of innovation of technology here on Earth and deploy that into each satellite we launch. Over the coming quarters we expect to see a lot of exciting progress across both the Pelican and Tanager product lines and will share updates as we near launch readiness. 

Forward Looking Statements: 

Except for the historical information contained herein, the matters set forth in this blog post are forward-looking statements within the meaning of the “safe harbor” provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995, including, but not limited to, the Company’s ability to successfully design, build, launch and deploy, operate and market new products and satellites and the Company’s ability to realize any of the potential benefits from product and satellite launches, either as designed, within the expected time frame, in a cost-effective manner, or at all. Forward-looking statements are based on the Company’s management’s beliefs, as well as assumptions made by, and information currently available to them. Because such statements are based on expectations as to future events and results and are not statements of fact, actual results may differ materially from those projected. Factors which may cause actual results to differ materially from current expectations include, but are not limited to: the Company’s ability to obtain and maintain required licenses and approvals from regulatory agencies, such as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in a timely fashion, or at all; whether the Company will be able to successfully build, launch and deploy or operate its satellites, including new satellites either as designed, in a timely fashion or at all; the Company’s ability to develop and release product and service enhancements to respond to rapid technological change, or to develop new designs and technologies for its satellites, in a timely and cost-effective manner; whether the Company will be able to continue to invest in scaling its sales organization, expanding its software engineering (including its ability to integrate new satellite capabilities) and marketing capabilities; whether the Company will be able to accurately predict and capture market opportunity; whether current customers or prospective customers adopt the Company’s platform or new products; the Company’s ability realize any of the potential benefits from new products and satellites, as well as strategic partnerships and customer collaborations; and the risk factors and other disclosures about the Company and its business included in the Company’s periodic reports, proxy statements, and other disclosure materials filed from time to time with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) which are available online at, and on the Company’s website at All forward-looking statements reflect the Company’s beliefs and assumptions only as of the date such statements are made. The Company undertakes no obligation to update forward-looking statements to reflect future events or circumstances.