Planet Earth to get a daily selfie

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Science  24 Feb 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6327, pp. 782-783
DOI: 10.1126/science.355.6327.782

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On 14 February, the satellite company Planet, based in San Francisco, California, launched 88 shoebox-sized satellites in orbit. They joined dozens of others, 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 meters—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. But scientists are realizing that they, too, can take advantage of the daily data—timescales that sparser observations from other satellites and aircraft could not provide. Planet’s growing pilot program gives researchers the imagery with no lag time, under an agreement that prohibits them from reselling the data. In 2016, Planet approved the applications of about 160 researchers across a range of fields. The company intends to expand the program in the months ahead, and says it is looking for projects that have social, humanitarian, and environmental impacts—and that have the potential for rapid publication in peer-reviewed journals