Planet SkySat imagery of new construction near Natanz. © 2020, Planet Labs Inc. All Rights Reserved
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How Analysts Uncover Covert Nuclear Facilities with Planet Data


Identifying potential threats and acting decisively is crucial to ensuring global security. Geointelligence analysts are responsible for studying a myriad of activities that might indicate a security risk. But how do they analyze activities that are intentionally carried out in a covert or hidden manner? 

To get insight into this question, we look to Dr. Jeffrey Lewis at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS). Here, they specialize in analyzing pressing geopolitical issues such as the development of nuclear capabilities in areas of high interest. In addition to using open source intelligence, Dr. Lewis and team rely on satellite imagery to understand patterns of life and detect and monitor ongoing changes on the ground.

In September 2020, following a mysterious explosion at Iran’s Natanz nuclear complex, Ali Akbar Salehi, Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, announced the construction of a new underground facility. This triggered Dr. Lewis to join the global race to uncover the whereabouts of the new plant. 

Analysts at Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS) spot signs of new construction near Natanz. Satellite imagery: Planet Labs Inc.; Analysis: MIIS

Using daily satellite imagery from Planet’s Dove constellation, they tracked early indicators of construction near Natanz. Needing to get a closer look for proper analysis, the team then tasked and captured a high-resolution Planet SkySat collect that provided greater detail into a new construction area near the original facility. 

The combination of Planet’s Dove and SkySat data provides a unique perspective that we call “tip and cue.” This workflow allowed Dr. Lewis to scan for change in Dove data, and then using a high-resolution SkySat, get a closer, more complete picture of the situation. 

Are you interested in learning more about how Dr. Lewis and his team use satellite imagery to discover covert activities? Watch this on-demand webinar to see how MIIS leverages Planet’s Tip and Cue to enhance their analysis.