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The eye in the sky – tiny satellites with big impact

Over the last few years, Berlin has become a hub for space industry innovation and a thriving NewSpace community. So as the leading small satellite city in Germany, it seemed written in the stars that Planet was destined to make the capital its home.

Agile Aerospace – From Smartphones to Satellites

Founded in 2010 by three NASA scientists, Planet has created a whole new way of doing satellite imagery. Founders Chris Boshuizen, Will Marshall and Robbie Schingler began building mini satellites from off-the-shelf sensors and cheap smartphone components. In 2013, three tiny satellites were launched at a cost of only $7,000 (€6100).

Today Planet designs, builds, and launches satellites faster than any company or government in history by continuing to use lean, low-cost electronics and design iteration – on a grand scale.

Most imaging collecting satellites are gigantic dense boxes of cameras and equipment, weighing thousands of pounds with an equally hefty price tag. But Planet’s ‘Dove’ satellite is roughly the size of a shoebox, weighs 8.8 pounds (4 kg) and are monumentally cheaper than the $750 million (€660 million) earlier generations of satellites.

Satellite, Planet, Dove, Space
Mini-satellite Dove © Planet Labs Inc.

Small but Mighty

Though tiny, these satellites are just as mighty as their larger counterparts and provide high-quality, frequently-captured aerial imagery. Every day, each Dove snaps 10,000 pictures covering 770,000 square miles. Planet’s systems then work to classify images as water, coral, rivers, roads, infrastructure and forests. 

The number of satellites Planet has in orbit changes often. As satellites approach the end of their life, they burn up and re-enter the atmosphere. Currently, Planet has about 150 in orbit collecting over 300 million square kilometres of imagery daily. 

Planet has grown from a team of seven people into a global company headquartered in San Francisco, with over 400 employees in America, Canada and Europe.

From San Francisco to Berlin

In 2015, after acquiring German company BlackBridge, Planet established its Tech Hub of Europe to Berlin and now houses the Mission Control for all satellite systems and supports Planet customers worldwide here.

“All of the raw remote sensing data is also processed in the Berlin office and fed into Planet’s Platform for Analytics. Over 80 operational and technical employees operate the world’s largest satellite constellation from Planet’s Berlin office,” shares Massimiliano Vitale, Planet General Manager and SVP of Berlin Operations.

Berlin’s relevance to the aerospace industry

Berlin is a key research environment for space hardware and applications and has become an attractive hub for innovative Earth observation and navigation software companies. As the leading startup ecosystem in Germany, the capital offers companies exploring satellite technology and Earth-imaging unique opportunities to excel.  

"The Berlin space industry is a small community but is really thriving, and with the help of programmes such as the EU’s Copernicus, which aims to establish a European capacity for Earth Observation, it’s growing into a rich ecosystem of established companies and startups. Planet is excited to be part of this community," says Vitale.

Berlin’s abundance of exceptional educational institutions are also helping to skyrocket the space industry’s success in the German capital. Vitale feels that "Berlin offers a great concentration of universities and institutes that are relevant to the aerospace industry. Over the recent years, Berlin has managed to attract a great community of technologists and software developers from all over the world and for Planet, provides a larger accessible talent pool."

Satellite, Planet, Space, Australia, Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef
Australia's Heron Island and the Great Barrier Reef © Planet Labs Inc.

Viewing the World as it Changes

With customers in over 100 countries around the world, Planet is leading the satellite imagery revolution to give access to real-time data about the earth. From enabling farmers to assess the health of crops to helping activist track Amazonian deforestation and much more, Planet’s valuable space imagery isn’t just revealing the world, it’s helping to save it.

"Europe has the second largest space budget in the world - EU, ESA and member states combined -  and with the speed of innovation we are seeing in commercial space, now is a good time for the public and private sectors to cooperate, support each other’s goals, and grow the economy. Planet is excited about supporting these goals and playing a unique role in driving these technological advancements," concludes Vitale.

The Financial Times has recenty featured Planet's operation in Berlin. Watch the video below: 

Learn more about Berlin’s evolution into the centre for NewSpace in Germany.

Text: Trish Elms

Header image: Planet Labs Inc.

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