THE ADVENT OF MASS-PRODUCED, MINIATURE satellites is radically changing Earth observation by vastly increasing the imagery’s “refresh rate.” San Francisco-based Planet Labs is at the forefront of this upheaval, producing, launching, and operating hundreds of spacecraft. The company plans to launch more than 100 satellites and achieve daily coverage of the whole Earth this calendar year. “As more and more satellites come online, first we will be producing a global basemap, then repeat coverage on a quarterly basis, then on a monthly basis, then on a weekly basis, then on a sub-weekly basis,” says Andrew Zolli, the company’s VP of Global Impact Initiatives. Yet, according to Robbie Schingler, the company’s Chief Strategy Officer and Co-Founder, the next major revolution in geospatial technologies will be on the ground, based on expanded capabilities to exploit that flood of data from space. I discussed the company’s mission, technology, and market strategy with Zolli and Schingler.
Zolli was first exposed to Planet Labs in the early stages of its development. With the help of a founda- tion, he recalls, the company convened a group of thought leaders in humanitarian, social, and ecological innovation to explore what its imagery might mean for the way we address global challenges. “It was immediately clear to all of us that the company’s data, tools, and platform could be an absolute game changer,” he says. “I was especially blown away by the potential to democratize access to this kind of imagery, to get people directly engaged in stewarding the planet.” (See Sidebar on Planet Labs’ commitment to addressing global challenges via “Open Regions” below)
Planet Lab’s mission is to image the whole Earth, every day, and make global change visible, accessible, and actionable. The company, Zolli explains, is at the forefront of three revolutions: