Saving the Planet One Tiny Satellite at a Time


“One of the challenges today is that after a disaster, whether it’s a fire, a flood, an earthquake or tsunami, everyone scrambles to get imagery as quickly as they can, but that tends to be later than they want. We’ll be able to do it much faster,” Marshall said.

“More importantly, they almost never have an image just prior to the disaster for a sort of apples-to-apples comparison of what happened. The last image of that area might have been taken many years ago,” he added.

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Potential commercial applications include mapping, precision agriculture and financial industries interested in tracking mass around the planet, such as output from mines, ships out of ports, urban growth and global crop yields, Marshall said.

Eventually, anyone should be able to go to a website and see some satellite imagery, he added.

The satellites will have relatively short lifespans of about one year in orbit before they re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. Before then, however, Planet Lab expects to have replacements in space.

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“The space sector typically takes extraordinary conservative approaches to satellite design, build and manufacturing. We’ve taken a much more Silicon Valley, release-early, release-often, rapid iteration-approach,” Marshall said.

“Our demos showed that this high-risk, much-more-latest-technology approach works pretty well. All of our satellites thus far worked and produced beautiful imagery of the Earth,” he said.

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