Planet image of the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, India. Credit: Planet

COLORADO SPRINGS – NASA awarded Planet a $6.7 million contract to provide Earth imagery for climate research.

Under the award Planet revealed in an April 11 blog, NASA will supply Planet data to 35 researchers to evaluate its utility alongside data provided by government Earth observation sensors, including NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation, and the second Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite.

Planet gathers global Earth imagery daily with a constellation of about 140 satellites, including Dove cubesats and larger RapidEye and SkySat satellites. The contract “is a signal of NASA’s interest in understanding what commercial imagery can bring to their scientific missions and how it coexists with other datasets,” Jen Marcus, vice president of Planet Federal Operations, told SpaceNews.

For Planet, the NASA contract also represents a homecoming of sorts. Planet founders Robbie Schingler, Will Marshall and Chris Boshuizen worked on NASA small satellite projects before establishing the company. In addition, Planet’s commitment to Earth monitoring is revealed in its motto, See Change, Change the World, Marcus said.

“Getting our data into the hands of renowned climate scientists to help measure essential climate variables furthers our mission of providing timely, global imagery and analytics to empower informed, deliberate and meaningful stewardship of our planet,” Robbie Schingler, Planet co-founder and chief strategist, said in a statement.

Under the new contract, NASA will gain access to Planet’s daily imagery and its 10-year imagery archive, Joseph Mascaro, Planet academic programs director, said in the April 11 blog. NASA “has broad interests in land use and land cover change, forest and ocean science, and polar and cryosphere applications,” Mascaro added.

Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, announced in August the space agency’s plan to spend $100 million a year on a series of small satellite projects.

As NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration begin purchasing Earth observation data gathered by private companies, some researchers have expressed concern they will have to pay to obtain the data. NASA is purchasing the Planet data under a license that allows the space agency to share it with anyone conducting NASA-sponsored research, Marcus said.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...