Planet Labs has launched 146 satellites into space — officially it's the largest fleet of satellites in human history. The company began engineering the satellites with the intention of making each one roughly the size of a loaf of bread. They each weigh 12 pounds (5 kg).
The satellites are engineered by former NASA employees. Unlike when they were working for NASA, the turnaround time for the creation of these satellites is much shorter. They are as easy to design and build as a smartphone is.
The satellites orbit the globe every 90 minutes taking photographs of the earth below. Co-founder of Planet Labs Dr. Will Marshall spoke to the news program, Sixty Minutes, about what can be seen on the images these satellites take of the earth. He said:
“We see rivers move, we see trees go down, we see vehicles move, we see road surfaces change and it gives you a perspective of the planet as a dynamic and evolving things that we need to take care of.”
They call the satellites doves and release them in flocks. 28 small satellites have recently been launched by astronauts aboard the International Space Station. The flocks spend their time snapping away, generating many images of the ever-changing earth, providing insights for those viewing them. The satellites generate 1.2 million photographs every 24 hours.
Planet Labs now allows companies, academics, farmers, and governments to access their data sets and images for research and — in the government's case — spying on other nations. They currently have 200 customers that utilize their images of the globe.
Planet Labs is now giving the U.S. government a much clearer picture of parts of the earth that they have never been able to investigate before.
Historically, dozens of engineers would have to be working on one satellite, but the company has revolutionized the industry. Making the satellites and more manageable has led to one engineer working on a dozen satellites. They have turned the tables on the satellite industry. The company has engineered around 300 satellites over the years, refining and learning from the process as they go along.
And sometimes, those lessons have been hard ones. On one of their launches, 26 satellites were destroyed in a launch accident when one of their rockets sending satellites up to the space station fell to the ground and exploded. The engineers immediately snapped back into action and quickly began work on meeting the demand for those lost satellites.
The founders of Planet have seen technology develop in record time. In their careers at NASA, it would take 5 to 10 years to get a satellite to space - now, it takes only a couple of weeks.
“Private Company Launches ‘Largest Fleet of Satellites in Human History’ to Photograph Earth.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, www.cbsnews.com/news/private-company-launches-largest-fleet-of-satellites-in-human-history-to-photograph-earth-60-minutes/.