Observation from Orbit: Gaining Traction

February 11, 2019

The day has arrived. ZeroHedge tells us the “‘Largest Fleet of Satellites in Human History’ Set to Revolutionize Space-Based Spying.” Writer Tyler Durden tells us about Planet Labs, an aerospace firm out of San Francisco that has launched almost 300 satellites for the express purpose of imaging specified sections of the Earth, on demand. We observe that Amazon is also into satellites now, and Google Alphabet and its Loon unit are making “we love satellites too” noises.

Though most of Planet Labs’ customers are currently agricultural companies seeking snapshots of their immense fields, the NGA is a noteworthy exception. We’re told:

“Their most important customer is the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) – the government body responsible for analyzing satellite photos from its 2.7 million square-foot headquarters south of Washington D.C. staffed with 14,500 employees. ‘I’m quite excited about capabilities such as what Planet’s putting up in space,’ says NGA director Robert Cardillo. …

We also noted:

“NGA’s capabilities are of course top secret, however they have been collecting the bulk of their images from three multi-billion dollar satellites the size of a city bus, according to satellite tracker Ted Molczan- who uses giant binoculars.”

Contrast that description to that of Planet’s satellites, which are the size of a loaf of bread. If you’re curious, navigate to the article for that image. (You can also see a photo of those giant binoculars in action.) Is the world ready for this level of satellite surveillance? In my humble opinion, anyone surprised by this development has not been paying close attention. Founded in 2010, Planet Labs was organized by former NASA scientists.

Amazon’s edged toward satellite management services. Perhaps there is a connection?

Cynthia Murrell, February 11, 2019


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