Series of PlanetScope images showing construction in Cairo, Egypt from August 2016 through December 2023. © 2023 Planet Labs PBC. All Rights Reserved.
AUTHOR PROFILE Steve Levay Senior Manager Product Marketing
Steve leads the product marketing team at Planet, which focuses on articulating the importance and utility of Planet data products and platform tools.

Planet Superpowers: Looking Back


Look back in time and space in order to establish a historical baseline across broad areas.

Albert Einstein said it best: “If you want to know the future, look at the past.” 

Understanding any kind of change often begins by examining historical patterns. This is certainly true for developments across the Earth’s surface, whether natural or human-driven.

And as Earth observation (EO) data becomes more available and affordable, greater numbers of governments and businesses are using it to track change over time and identify trends that help predict how the future will unfold.

EO Data and Broad Area Management

EO data plays a key role in broad area management, which is the practice of monitoring, measuring, and reporting on assets, whether natural or man-made, across broad geographies and timescales. 

Broad area management is best achieved with data, analytics, and software that can scale globally, show real-time updates, and capture multiple dimensions of information (location, time, and physical characteristics). This includes EO data, which offers a unique vantage point across Earth’s landmass.

Planet has been at the forefront of providing broad area management to customers and partners across the globe. And with nearly a decade of data, the Planet Archive is an unprecedented, living dataset of global change.

Using Planet Data to Travel Back in Time 

Planet operates hundreds of satellites that index the entire surface of the Earth nearly every day and feed the ever-growing Planet Archive — composed of more than 300 billion sq km of imagery, with proprietary datasets back to 2009 and public datasets back to 1972. 

This means that for any given location on Earth’s landmass, the archive has an average of over 2,700 images of that area.

Always-On Monitoring: The Key to a Comprehensive View

Using EO data to compare and analyze change over large timescales presents new ways of gaining historical context. Planet’s always-on coverage unlocks the ability to not only analyze broad areas, but also to hone in on a specific area and analyze it through time. 

With best-in-class imagery that reaches deep into the past, you can understand patterns in your areas of interest, validate hypotheses of what is happening on the ground, and model future scenarios with confidence thanks to the vast amount of reference data.

The construction of the Felipe Ángeles International Airport near Mexico City between January 14, 2017 and January 27, 2024 — captured in 364 PlanetScope scenes.

Archive Data in Practice

Let’s dive into an example to see this in practice.  In public land management, protecting areas from misuse and environmental harm is an ever-present challenge. 

This can be done with change detection analysis, enabling analysts to compare baseline to current imagery in order to identify potential violations or infractions such as illegal mining, deforestation, or encroachment.

Planet Road Change Detection Analytics (highlighted in yellow) show new roads as they are constructed in a forested area of eastern Bolivia between January 2023 and March 2024.

With an ever-growing archive of data, organizations can look backwards in time to establish that baseline. Planet is uniquely able to provide this ability over broad areas with our always-on, global PlanetScope Monitoring®.

With a baseline established, change detection analytics can be used to automatically detect new road or building construction in the proximity of the areas that need to be managed. When changes are detected, those areas can be investigated further by looking backward in time to understand how a place has evolved over the years.

In addition, this information can alert analysts to look closer by leveraging higher-resolution, on-demand SkySat® tasking to get more precise insights when and where they are needed.

Looking Back With Planet

With the ability to detect change and initiate on-demand tasking, teams can use imagery from the past to make more informed decisions and mitigate risk. Being able to look back across time is one of the core superpowers behind broad area management. 

Interested in learning how a rich historical context can enhance your workflow? Watch our on-demand webinar that showcases how Planet can help your team achieve broad area management, at scale.