With six new satellites and more coming, Planet looks to disrupt high-res imagery market

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SkySat’s 72cm imagery cannot compete with DigitalGlobe’s 30cm images, but Planet is going after many of the same target customers.

WASHINGTON — Planet is trying to break into the top tier of the remote-sensing business by offering “guaranteed” high-resolution images to customers on the day at time of their choosing.

The company has 13 remote-sensing SkySat satellites — seven came from the acquisition of Terra Bella from Google. Six more were launched last fall and recently declared operational. “This means having satellites overhead every day twice a day. It’s access that doesn’t exist in the market right now,” SkySat product lead Louis Rousmaniere told SpaceNews.

When it sold Terra Bella, Google became a Planet customer and investor. Rousmaniere said SkySat is now the largest constellation of high-resolution satellites in the market. Two more satellites are being launched later this year. Another six are planned further down the road.

SkySat’s 72cm imagery cannot compete with Maxar Technologies DigitalGlobe’s 30cm images, but Planet is going after many of the same target customers, including the U.S. government, corporations and commodity traders who want access to high-quality imagery on a predictable schedule.

Planet hopes to grab market share by offering “guaranteed collection” twice a day, said Rousmaniere. Many customers are looking for specific deliveries at set dates and times, he added. Traditional providers give preference to “high priority” customers that lease a lot of their satellite capacity. “When they offer a priority, they offer a priority number, not a collection guarantee or a time frame,” he said. “We are breaking that model. If you want your imagery every Tuesday, we can do that. We’ll do collection on the specific date you want.”

Most SkySats have onboard propulsion so they can be moved in their orbit to expand coverage and fill specific requests. Planet designed the satellites but outsourced the manufacturing to Maxar Technologies’ SSL. The addition of six satellites enables afternoon crossing. Six have a 10 AM crossing time and seven a 1:30PM crossing time.

“We’re discussing the concept of tip and cue, using the morning constellation to tip off the afternoon constellation to pick up something that was suspicious in the morning constellation,” said Rousmaniere. “That’s only possible if you have morning and afternoon crossing.”

Asked these new services put Planet in a position to compete in the space now dominated by DigitalGlobe, Rousmaniere said, “Yeah. I believe we are.”

DigitalGlobe officials have said they don’t believe any company today presents a direct challenge. Planet offers lower resolution pictures but higher revisit rates. Both companies will aim at similar target audiences. “We are offering a different suite of product for some of the same customers,” Planet spokesman Trevor Hammond said.

In addition to the SkySat constellation, Planet operates 140 Dove cubesats and five RapidEye medium-resolution satellites

The company has been making inroads in the U.S. government. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency last month signed a cooperative research and development agreement with Planet to explore and potentially improve the speed at which the agency can extract information and analytics from the company’s imagery.

NGA purchased a $14 million subscription for Planet’s Dove cubesat imagery in July 2017, following an introductory contract signed in 2016. Rousmaniere said the company is in talks with several potential customers for SkySat.