Key West from space (Source: Planet)

Planet announces Pelican next-generation high-resolution imaging constellation, SAR fusion

At its Explore 2021 user conference, Planet announced its next generation fleet of high-resolution imaging satellites and melding synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data with its current imagery monitoring product. Both capabilities are in response to customer requests for more data.

The Pelican constellation will replenish and upgrade Planet’s current fleet of 21 SkySat high-resolution spacecraft that provide imagery at 1 meter and smaller resolution. Each Pelican will be smaller than washing machine-sized SkySat, but “more dense” reports CNBC, weighing in between 150 to 200 kilograms.

“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. 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,” said Planet’s Senior Vice President of Space Systems James Mason.

Planet hasn’t said how many Pelican satellites will be launched or what sort of resolution be available, other than the constellation will have “better resolution, more frequent image revisit times, and reduced reaction time and latency.”  Customers will be able to see “fine details like road markings” and get more global daily revisit frequency than SkySat’s current 10 per day.

Pelican will be built in-house at the company’s headquarters in San Francisco with the first launches expected to take place in 2022, with SpaceX handing the launch of the entire constellation under a larger multi-year contract with the company.

Last year, Planet announced its Fusion Monitoring product, using Planet’s monitoring data with additional information to provide a consistent stream of information about a customer’s area of interest.  Fusion with SAR adds radar imaging data from the European Space Agency’s pair of Sentinel 1 satellites, providing improved information to customers in the agricultural sector.

“All of Planet’s data is analytics ready. This is the foundation of our Fusion product line and core to our ability to combine Planet data with that of other sensors,” said Planet President Kevin Weil. “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.” 

With Planet going public shortly via SPAC, one of the company’s most significant technical and financial moves is to upgrade its fleet of SkySat satellites.  Numerous other earth observation companies are deploying large optical imaging constellations for faster delivery of imagery and rapid revisits of areas of interest.   In addition, as Planet continues to refine its data fusion products, the company will no doubt develop relationships with other satellite providers to provide additional information that can be layered or “fused” with its own in-house imagery.

Doug Mohney

Doug Mohney, a principal at Cidera Analytics, has been working and writing about IT and satellite industries for over 20 years. His real world experience including stints at two start-ups, a commercial internet service provider that went public in 1997 for $150 million and a satellite internet broadband company. Follow him on Twitter at DougonTech or contact him at dmohney139 (at) gmail (dot) com.

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