Science

NASA scientists launch space analytics startup with $13M in funding

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Today, two former NASA scientists have launched Planet Labs, a new company aiming to send a fleet of imaging satellites into space.

The new company is getting well off the ground with a $13 million round of funding from familiar Silicon Valley entities, including Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Founders Fund, First Round Capital, and O’Reilly AlphaTech.

The Planet Labs satellites are called Doves and will be sending back high-resolution images of Earth without compromising personal privacy. Its founders hope researchers and others will use the images to track deforestation, better understand weather, improve global agriculture, and more.

The satellites in question are not unlike the cube sats launching from the ISS these days. These miniscule devices orbit the planet and generate their own power via solar panels, taking pictures of Earth, sending Morse code messages via superbright LEDs, logging maritime traffic, and monitoring forest fires as they go along.

But the Planet Labs team says part of what makes its fleet unique is the high frequency with which the sats will send information back to Earth, quickly creating massive data sets about the planet. Also, the startup’s reps say it wants to provide universal access to the data gathered.

“Planet Labs will create an entirely new data set, with both humanitarian and commercial value,” said Planet Labs investor and maker-movement legend Tim O’Reilly. “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.”

Planet Labs was founded in 2010 and is based in San Francisco.