NASA broadens access to Planet satellite imagery

05-08-2021 | |
In 2021, Planet data includes the monitoring of corn and soybean yield. - Photo: Canva
In 2021, Planet data includes the monitoring of corn and soybean yield. - Photo: Canva

As satellite data provider Planet increasingly markets its satellite imagery services to agricultural companies, the North American Space Agency (NASA) has made the company’s satellite information available to all United States federal civilian agencies, the National Science Foundation, and contractors of the foundation.

On July 26, 2021, NASA published an article announcing the satellite data company Planet has received a contract expansion to provide satellite imagery for scientific purposes to all U.S. federal civilian agencies, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and all federally- and NSF-funded contractors, subcontractors, partners, and grantees.

This exceptionally broad access to Planet imagery, says the release, applies to roughly 280,000 eligible data users across the U.S. federal government.

“Planet imagery is provided through NASA’s Commercial Smallsat Data Acquisition (CSDA) Program, and the contract modification expands access to imagery from the company’s PlanetScope and RapidEye satellite constellations. In addition, Planet will provide a comprehensive catalog of data, associated metadata, and additional information.” Those looking for access to Planet data must submit a request form to the agency.

Corn and soybean yield evaluation

NASA first contracted with Planet in 2019, with data being used for a wide range of research projects focused on climate change, biodiversity loss, and complex sustainability problems. In 2021, that includes the monitoring of melting summer ice in Greenland, corn and soybean yield evaluation, mapping snow-covered areas, and investigate the causes behind the Chamoli landslide in India.

Planet markets to ag-service providers

Planet is simultaneously leveraging its extensive satellite network to court more ag-service providers interested in more frequent and efficient field imagery services.

Citing a need for more frequent data collection (biweekly is not enough, they say), better resolution and coverage (widely distributed fields are hard to image at scale), and poor cost effectiveness (otherwise unnecessary data layers drive up storage and data costs), Planet believes its services can give farm service providers an edge in customer service capability.

In a presentation delivered by Steve Levay, a product marketing manager with the company, Planet’s imaging service is based on a combined satellite network – one employing Sentinal-2, Landsat, and the company’s own PlanetScope network.

Farmer’s Edge and Corteva

Using a case study of an area in the state of Nebraska, Levay indicated the combined approach brings the number of cloud-free or low-percentage cloud cover images from a handful each month to upwards of 20. This system, he says, offers the “best chance” of getting detailed imagery when it’s needed. The company’s network is already in use by large ag-service providers such as Farmer’s Edge and Corteva through its Granular management service.

Reduce the amount of unnecessary data

Beyond more frequent images, Levay says Planet is trying to reduce the amount of unnecessary data growers and their service providers receive. This is done through automated image processing and more specific field boundary identification system, set to customer specifications.

A grower, for instance, can indicate when they would like to receive images, how often, the exact field boundaries – including oddly shaped parcels – for which they want the image, and in what format they’d like to receive the information.

It’s a constant stream of data you can tap into whenever you want

“We want to help ag companies cover more acres with more accurate data, save on processing and storage costs, and help them gain an edge on their competition as they scale up their digital solutions,” says Levay after citing a CropLife survey indicating 80 per cent of surveyed ag-service providers wanted to incorporate satellite imaging into their business models by 2023.

“This is passive monitoring. It’s a constant stream of data you can tap into whenever you want… All you pay for, all you get, are the areas you care about.” Levay adds Planet is making all historic imagery available to those signing up for the network.

Matt Mcintosh Correspondent North America