Planet Seeks to Expand Federal Business

The growing company shares plans to stand up a new federal services subsidiary, bid for NRO commercial imagery contract


With approximately 150 active satellites in orbit, Planet operates the largest ever constellation of imaging satellites, capable of photographing the entire surface of the Earth every day. The company now aims to significantly grow its federal customer base in 2019.

Planet has sold imagery to the U.S. government since 2016, when it was awarded its first contract to provide the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) access to data captured daily by its Dove constellation. That contract has since been renewed twice, and the two organizations went on to sign a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement in spring 2018 to improve the speed at which analytics can be extracted from Planet imagery. Following yet another year of major growth, Planet looks to secure more government partnerships.

“The U.S. government, broadly speaking, has been a main customer for us and remains a key element of our focus,” said Planet’s VP of Regulatory and Government Affairs Rich Leshner.

In December, Planet entered an agreement to acquire Boundless Spatial, Inc., a geospatial software company based in St. Louis, Mo. Once the deal closes, Planet and Boundless plan to form a subsidiary called Planet Federal that will focus on providing Planet’s commercial imagery and products to government agencies, including for projects requiring extensive security clearances. Planet will retain much of the Boundless staff as well as its office in St. Louis, a growing hub for geospatial technology and the location of the Next NGA West campus.

“Boundless works closely with the U.S. government in ways that can improve our quality of understanding with government customers,” Leshner said. “That means understanding their interest in data, their use cases, and their pain points.”

According to Leshner, acquiring the Boundless product suite will also strengthen Planet’s ability to identify features such as planes, ships, or buildings using automated analysis and machine learning—a meaningful step toward the company’s vision of a “queryable Earth.”

Planet’s next move will be a bid for an upcoming contract to provide electro-optical imagery to the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which announced in September 2018 that it would be responsible for all the Defense Department’s future commercial data imagery purchases. The contract—which the Planet team has dubbed “EV2020″—is the next iteration of the EnhancedView program, which was formerly managed by NGA and provides commercial satellite imagery to the U.S. defense and intelligence communities, federal civil agencies, humanitarian organizations, and international partners. Maxar’s DigitalGlobe has been the primary provider for EnhancedView since 2010.

“We’re excited about being able to showcase our technical suite … and to demonstrate real-time opportunities to enable better decision-making,” Leshner said. “Whatever happens, EV2020 will be an important case study in our ability to work with the government.”

Planet hopes to woo NRO with the level of insight offered by its 130-unit constellation of Dove cubesats, which image Earth’s surface daily at three-meter resolution, combined with its 15 SkySats capable of imaging any location on the globe twice a day at 72-centimeter resolution. Not to mention the company’s six launch-ready SkySats. Once in space, the newest SkySats will further boost Planet’s high-res capabilities. The Dove constellation is also receiving upgrades in the form of additional spectral bands and improved cameras.

“We’ll keep going with our ‘launch often’ campaign … and you’re going to continue to see innovation from us,” Leshner said.

Planet was recently featured in a segment on CBS’s 60 Minutes. Leshner called the primetime coverage “humbling” and a reminder of how much work must still be done.

Photo Credit: Planet

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