With the goal of capturing frequent snapshots that show the planet's changes in real-time without breaking bank, California company Planet Labs has revealed its plan to launch 28 teensy satellites called "Doves" to space. Existing imaging satellites are extremely expensive to make and usually capture huge pictures that take days to send back. Each Dove, however, consists of relatively affordable 10-centimeter-wide Lego-like building blocks called CubeSats and will quickly beam back mid-res photos. The firm has yet to mention how many CubeSats will go into each Dove, but the two test satellites launched in April (see sample images they took at the source below) had three pieces each. If everything goes off without a hitch, the fleet could be orbiting the Earth at a low altitude as soon as December. Once operational, we can use the pictures they send to update online maps and monitor melting ice caps, deforestation, or even traffic jams.
[Image credit: NASA]
Planet Labs Reveals First Images from Space; Announces Plans to Launch Fleet of Satellites to Understand the Changing Planet
CA, 26th June 2013
Planet Labs, a space and analytics company, announced plans to launch the world's largest fleet of Earth imaging satellites to image the changing planet and provide open access to that information. Today, they revealed the first images from their first two satellites.
Planet Labs' goal is to provide universal access to information about the changing planet. The company plans to achieve this by launching a fleet of Earth imaging satellites, called 'Doves', that when acting together can provide a new image of the planet at an unprecedented combination of resolution and frequency. To best enable this mission, the company has selected a low orbit for its constellation and an optical resolution of three to five meters – a scale that allows measurement of a tree canopy, but does not compromise individual privacy. This will enable monitoring of deforestation, help improve agricultural yields, track natural disasters and many other applications.
"Planet Labs will create an entirely new data set, with both humanitarian and commercial value," said Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures. "We've become used to having imagery of the entire Earth. What we haven't yet understood is how transformative it will be when that imagery is regularly and frequently updated." Everyone from ecologists to citizen journalists will be able to track frequent changes to any place on the planet -- a frequency and coverage greater than ever seen before.
"We're seeing unprecedented innovation in the space industry, starting with SpaceX lowering the cost of access, and now with Planet Labs revolutionizing the satellite segment," said Steve Jurvetson, Managing Director of Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ) and member of the company's Board of Directors. "As Planet Labs' first outside investor, we are delighted to help the company execute on their unique vision to make the big data landscape of the planet more accessible."
A selection of images from the company's first two demonstration satellites, "Dove 1" and "Dove 2," launched in April 2013, are available on www.planet-labs.com. These demonstration missions extended the company's lab into space, and successfully validated key technologies and operations to enable future systems. Data from the upcoming fleet of satellites are scheduled to be available early next year. The company is engaging with select partners and customers to ensure the data service can easily be utilized for both humanitarian and commercial purposes.