Planet, Airbus start joint satellite-imagery product initiative

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WASHINGTON — Planet and Airbus Defense and Space’s geospatial division have agreed to co-develop imagery products that leverage both companies’ satellites.

The partnership combines the lower resolution but daily global coverage of Planet’s cubesat constellation with Airbus’ fleet of high-resolution satellites that have more limited coverage.

Will Marshall, Planet’s CEO, told SpaceNews that the collaborative agreement came about because each company’s individual customers were often seeking a mix of products from both of them.

“Together this enable new kinds of applications and services that weren’t possible alone,” Marshall said, such as scanning the globe with Planet’s Dove constellation and zooming in on areas of interest with Airbus’s sharper imaging satellites.

François Lombard, director of Airbus Defence and Space’s Intelligence Business division, said the Planet constellation can act as an early-warning system for Airbus to then task its satellites.

“Sometimes you want to identify a specific ship or a car and you need extremely precise resolutions,” he said as examples.

San Francisco-based Planet operates more than 150 satellites — most being Dove cubesats with 3- to 5-meter resolution. Through acquisitions the company also has five RapidEye satellites with 5-meter resolution and 13 SkySats offering 90-centimeter resolution.

France-based Airbus, with its two Pleiades satellites, can perform optical imaging at 50-centimeter resolution, Lombard said. The company’s Spot-6, and Spot-7 satellites provide 1.5-meter imaging.

Through the German TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X satellites and Spain’s Paz satellite, Airbus is also able to offer synthetic aperture radar for imaging through clouds and at night.

By cross-selling products, Marshall and Lombard said they are also hoping to attract new business across the Atlantic — Planet in Europe and Airbus in the United States. 

“Where Planet is the better contact they will take the lead; on others we will take the lead,” Lombard said.

Planet has won at least two contracts from the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, a major buyer of commercial satellite imagery. 

Marshall said Planet and Airbus will determine how revenue is split from joint contract wins on a case-by-case basis.

Marshall and Lombard said the companies will be announcing customers for their joint products in the coming weeks.