A Dove’s-eye view: tiny Planet Labs satellites send back images of Brazil, Egypt and China

Planet Labs Dove satellite photograph

High above us in Earth’s orbit, Planet Labs‘ growing constellation of 43 mini “Dove” satellites are busy snapping images of our always-changing planet. The startup released the first pictures from its newest 11 satellites today, and they reveal everything from shifting agricultural practices to the comings and goings of boats in the Suez Canal.

The first image shows more than the pretty patchwork of Earth’s surface: It depicts crop growth in June just north of Rio de Janeiro.

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Tracking crop production can give private and public agencies advance warning of shortages or other logistical information. Planet Labs can also track water levels, which can impact harvests. The July 1 image below shows a reservoir in Minas Gerais, Brazil, where years of drought have resulted in dramatically low water levels.

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Planet Labs also captured a changing landscape in a new city in China, where rice fields were replaced with irrigation systems likely used to grow soy crops. The number of residential and industrial buildings grows while a lake shrinks.

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Planet Labs notes that this image is a low-resolution GIF, but the original images are high resolution.

In Egypt, Planet Labs’ flock was able to capture images of the Suez Canal. The Doves’ cameras are accurate down to the 3 meter level, which makes it easy to spot individual boats moving between Great Bitter Lake and the canal.

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Planet Labs has said from the beginning that its images will be used for many applications — from tracking a shipping container across the ocean to measuring deforestation. Another 28 Doves went up this month and are scheduled to be released from the International Space Station in just a few weeks, further expanding the number of pictures the startup can capture each day.

“I really want this company to not just show people what is changing about the world, but show them how they can help,” co-founder Chris Boshuizen told me last summer.

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