NASA awards Planet $7 million Earth imagery contract

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Updated 12:30 pm Eastern time with comment from Jen Marcus of Planet Federal.

SAN FRANCISCO – NASA employees, contractors and NASA-funded research teams will have access to Planet Earth observation imagery under a $7 million contract option the San Francisco company announced April 16.

“We have unlimited access to all PlanetScope data,” Kevin Murphy, program executive for NASA’s Earth Science Data System, told SpaceNews. “We found the greatest value in the global three-meter data.”

NASA announced plans to purchase Earth observation data from Maxar Technologies, Planet and Spire in 2018 as part of a pilot program to evaluate the utility of commercial data. The space agency determined the imagery was valuable but sometimes struggled with licenses that prevented some types of data sharing and publication of research. NASA bought Planet imagery for a climate research pilot program under a $6.7 million contract announced in April 2019.

During the pilot program, 35 NASA principal investigators used Planet imagery for research focused on atmospheric clouds and aerosols, polar ice and snow, agriculture and forests. Now that the broader NASA community has access to the data, “it is going to push applications into new areas,” Murphy said.

NASA also obtains imagery from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer on its Terra and Aqua Earth observation satellites and from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite on the NASA-National Oceanic and Atmospheric National Polar-orbiting Partnership and NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite System.

“We see this [Planet] imagery as a complement to that data,” Murphy said. “The higher spatial resolution allows us to verify some of our global daily products.”

Under the $7 million contract awarded in March but announced April 16, NASA gains access to PlanetScope, the three-meter resolution global imagery captured daily by a constellation of more than 130 cubesats called Doves. In October, Planet unveiled an upgraded version of the satellites called SuperDoves. SuperDoves are designed to capture imagery in eight spectral bands rather than four spectral bands like their predecessors.

“We are really encouraged by NASA leaning forward with a new dataset that complements the imagery they collect and making it available to the scientific community,” said Jen Marcus, operations vice president for Planet Federal, the firm’s subsidiary focused on serving U.S. government customers. “For us as a company founded on the idea of seeing change on the Earth, making decisions based on that and addressing climate change, it’s significant to get our data to more scientists who are looking at that problem.”

NASA’s contract with Planet includes options to continue purchasing imagery through September 2023.