Planet imagery shows flooding Sept. 2, 2021 along the Raritan River in central New Jersey. Planet compared imagery from Aug. 13, Sept. 2 and Sept. 7, 2021 to show the impact of torrential rains produced by Hurricane Ida as it traveled inland. Credit: PlanetScope

SAN FRANCISCO – Researchers delving into climate change, biodiversity loss and other topics through work funded by U.S. federal civilian agencies and the National Science Foundation will have access to Planet Earth-observation data through September 2022, under a NASA contract announced Sept. 14.

The announcement follows NASA’s decision in July to offer wider access to Planet data, which had previously been limited to NASA-funded work.  Now, some 300,000 researchers, contractors and grantees, who receive funding from federal civilian agencies and NSF, will have access to the data, Planet said in a Sept. 14 news release.

“NASA has led the way in engaging with the commercial space industry and this new contract further validates their commitment to both commercial space and climate action,” Robbie Schingler, Planet co-founder and chief strategy officer, said in a statement. “In the most critical decade for climate action, NASA has made it possible to provide researchers with robust datasets that can be used to monitor and address the current climate crisis and we look forward to collaborating further on this important work.”

The NASA contract win couldn’t come at a better time for Planet, a decade-old company preparing to list shares publicly through a merger with dMY Technology Group, Inc. IV, a special-purpose acquisition company. Planet offers daily Earth imagery with a fleet of more than 150 Dove cubesats and high-resolution imagery with 21 SkySats.

NASA’s Earth Science Division awarded Planet a $6.7 million contract in 2019 for data to track essential climate variables. In 2020, the space agency expanded the award made through the Commercial SmallSat Data Acquisition Program to cover NASA employees, contractors and NASA-funded research.

NASA then awarded Planet a $2.24 million contract in July to share data with federal civilian agencies and NSF through September 2021. The latest award extends the contract through September 2022. Planet received $6.2 million for the first task order awarded under the new contract for data provided until Jan. 13, 2022, according to the USAspending website.

“Extended access to Planet data for all federally-funded scientists is a game-changer for researchers trying to figure out what’s happening right now with our rapidly-changing world,” Joe Levy, a Colgate University professor who conducts research on permafrost landsystems, said in a statement. “Working on NSF-supported research in Antarctica using Planet data means being able to watch for changes to Earth’s polar regions practically every day the sun is up. We’re seeing day-to-day changes in where ground ice is thawing, when meltwater is flowing, and how once-frozen environments are evolving.”

Hannah Kerner, a University of Maryland, College Park, assistant research professor who serves as the machine learning lead for NASA Harvest, a Food Security and Agriculture initiative, also applauded the Planet contract.

“As a consortium that spans multiple agencies and universities, the ability to share data and collaboratively advance research methods is critical for achieving our goals,” Kerner said in a statement.

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...