Mapping company Planet captures an image of Earth’s entire landmass every single day. They achieve this remarkable feat by using a fleet of small satellites that roam space collecting data on our planet.
Originally called Planet Labs, the company was founded by a group of scientists and engineers, in Cupertino, California six years ago.
Their tiny mapping devices are called CubeSat satellites, which are roughly the same size as a toaster. They use simple consumer smartphone technology for their imaging and data collection. The first concept of these tiny satellites was developed by NASA’s Ames Research Center.
Over time, Planet has improved their satellites, they call their flock of devices their ‘doves’ and upgrade the software onboard simply by swapping out the smartphone for the latest model. Planet currently has about 200 operating satellites that travel on a pole-to-pole path capturing around 1.4 million images per day. The tiny sats feed their data back to the roughly 30 ground stations that Planet has set up across the globe. The company has grown from a team of seven working out of a garage to have over 500 employees. By utilizing market available technology, Planet keeps their cost down and is then able to maintain such a large fleet of atmosphere bound devices.
Planets Mission 1 is officially achieved
The company started with an ambitious goal of wanting to image Earth’s entire landmass every single day. co-founder Will Marshall announced the goal officially achieved in a blog post on November 7. The post entitled “Mission 1 Complete” outlines the company's story from its humble beginnings to it incredible status today. Marshall writes, “For Mission 1, our team was focused on building the hardware and software (and getting it into space) to deliver a data stream about our planet unlike any other. We’ve done this and are just beginning to understand the power and impact of this daily information stream.” To put the scale of Planet's work into context, out the most used reference for aerial maps, Google Maps is only updated every five years.
Planet plans to index their map data
If this is ambitious wait until you hear what the company has planned next: “Planet is doing object recognition on its imagery to enable users to query what is on the Earth (how many houses are there in Pakistan?) and build customized information feeds (e.g. count the number of ships in the top 10 ports vs. time)," the blog post reads.
They hope that being able to synthesize the mapping data they have will assist users to make ‘to make smarter decisions.’ Basically, they want to create a platform that will allow users to be able to search the maps the same way Google allows us to search the internet. By indexing the way the physical changes on our planet's surface, Planet will become an extraordinary tool for companies and organizations that need up to date visual data.