Planet unveils Pelican Earth-imaging constellation

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SAN FRANCISCO – Planet unveiled “very high resolution” Pelican Earth-imaging satellites and revealed plans to bring synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) into its Planet Fusion Monitoring data stream.

Planet made the announcements Oct. 12 at the start of Planet Explore 2021, a conference for the company’s customers, partners, developers and data product end users. Company officials declined to comment on the resolution of Pelican satellites, which are scheduled to begin launching in 2022.

Since Pelicans are “designed, built and manufactured” by Planet, they can be upgraded continuously like Dove cubesats, which are also produced in-house, Robbie Schingler, Planet chief strategy officer, told SpaceNews. Planet has produced 18 generations of Doves.

In contrast, Planet SkySats, which offer 50-centimeter-per-pixel resolution and revisit rates as high as 10 times per day, were manufactured by Maxar Technologies. Planet completed its constellation of 21 SkySats in 2020.

“Pelican significantly advances Planet’s product suite with the highest temporal resolution and revisit times that we have ever offered, while dramatically reducing the time between tasking and receipt of an image,” James Mason, Planet’s senior vice president of space systems, said in a statement. “In a world that is increasingly fast-changing and unpredictable, this kind of detailed information on demand will be a game changer for our customers who every day need to make quick, consequential decisions.”

Planet executives are not revealing the size of the planned Pelican constellation, saying it will largely be determined by market demand.

“If and when the market is there, we can put more satellites in space and we have the ground stations and the ground-processing capability in order to handle more and more data,” Schingler said.

In addition to processing its own imagery, Planet merges imagery from its own flock of 180 Doves with imagery from the European Copernicus Sentinel 2, NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer and the U.S. Geological Survey-NASA Landsat to create Planet Fusion Monitoring, a cloud-free data source.

Planet Fusion Monitoring will now include Sentinel 1 SAR data, which can be acquired at night and through clouds.

“By incorporating SAR into our daily Fusion monitoring product, we ensure direct measurements regardless of cloud cover, providing more insights to our customers to reliably power their decisions,” Planet President Kevin Weil said in a statement.

Planet is creating an “analysis ready data pipeline,” Schingler said. “We’re combining the best of the pixels available to give customers the actual information that they need.”

Over the last two years, Planet engineers have designed two new sensors. One is the hyperspectal sensor for Carbon Mapper satellites to pinpoint, quantify and track sources of methane and carbon dioxide. Pelican’s sensor is the second.

Planet is preparing to go public through a merger with dMY Technology Group, Inc. IV, a special-purpose acquisition company.

Going public will give Planet access to the funds the company needs to “build up the team and build out the Earth data platform,” Schingler said. “As we do more remote sensing science for our users, more people can use it. The more people that use it, the lower cost it is per user. This is how we expand the total addressable market.”