Planet Labs, soon to be public, unveils more powerful Pelican imagery satellites


A graphic rendering of a Pelican satellite.

Earth imaging and data specialist Planet Labs on Tuesday announced a new line of imagery satellites, called Pelican, as the company prepares to go public later this year.

The Pelican satellites are meant to upgrade Planet’s existing constellation of 21 SkySat satellites in orbit, with launches beginning in 2022.

“It’s higher resolution, and having more satellites in space means that you actually end up having a higher revisit capability and [Pelican is] being designed for what our users want – which is speed and near-real time understanding about what’s happening,” Planet co-founder and chief strategy officer Robbie Schingler told CNBC.

An employee builds a satellite inside the company’s manufacturing facility.

Schingler noted that the Pelican satellites will be smaller in size than the SkySat spacecraft, but “more dense” with a mass between 150 to 200 kilograms each. That makes the Pelican satellites substantially larger than the about 120 Dove series of imagery satellites that Planet also has in orbit.

The company in August signed a multi-year launch agreement with SpaceX, making Elon Musk’s venture Planet’s “go-to-launch provider” for its satellites through 2025. Planet has more than 600 customers, split between four sectors: civil, agriculture, defense and intelligence, and mapping.

Planet also announced on Tuesday that it is adding synthetic aperture radar imagery from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1 satellites to its database, adding another source of information for its customers. Synthetic aperture radar, or SAR, is another increasingly competitive market among private satellite imagery companies – especially because of its ability to capture images through clouds and at night.

Notably, Planet is combining with special purpose acquisition company dMY Technology Group IV, which trades on the NYSE under ticker DMYQ. The deal gives the space company a $2.8 billion equity valuation and is expected to close in the fourth quarter, resulting in Planet listing on the NYSE under ticker PL.

“We are a data subscription business,” Schingler said. “Earth observation can play a huge role in getting people on a common operating picture for truth, around what’s happening on the planet. We image the whole world every day.”

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