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Flotilla of tiny satellites will photograph the entire Earth every day

23 February 2017

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On 14 February, earth scientists and ecologists received a Valentine's Day gift from the San Francisco, California-based company Planet, which launched 88 shoebox-sized satellites on a single Indian rocket. They joined dozens already in orbit, bringing the constellation of "Doves," as these tiny imaging satellites are known, to 144. Six months from now, once the Doves have settled into their prescribed orbits, the company says it will have reached its primary goal: being able to image every point on Earth's landmass at intervals of 24 hours or less, at resolutions as high as 3.7 metres—good enough to single out large trees. It's not the resolution that's so impressive, though. It's getting a whole Earth selfie every day.

The news has already sparked excitement in the business world, which is willing to pay a premium for daily updates of telltale industrial and agricultural data like shipping in the South China Sea and corn yields in Mexico. But scientists are realising that they, too, can take advantage of the daily data—timescales that sparser observations from other satellites and aircraft could not provide.

"This is a game changer," says Douglas McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who wants to use Planet imagery to map coral bleaching events as they unfold. At present, coral researchers often rely on infrequent, costly reconnaissance airplane flights. "The previous state of the science was, for me, like taking a family photo album and shaking out all the photos on the floor and then being asked to haphazardly pick up three images and tell the story of the family."

Source: Science | AAAS

Image credit: Planet - In 6 months, camps near Adjumani, Uganda, grow as refugees flee violence in South Sudan

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