• Andrew Bowden're on CubeSat

Updated: Jun 30, 2020

In the AFR Weekend of 24-25 February there was an article by John Thornhill, Innovation Editor of the Financial Times, originally entitled "A space revolution: do tiny satellites threaten our privacy?"

"...(there is a company) in San Francisco called Planet which was founded by 3 NASA engineers in 2010. The company operates the world's largest private fleet of satellites (tiny and cheap called CubeSats) which circle the Earth and take daily photographs of every spot on the planet. It is now selling this space imagery to almost anyone willing to pay, as well as offering it free to some non-governmental organisations and researchers."

Thornhill notes that "The partial democratisation of space data, which some compare to the shift from mainframe to mobile computers, is enabling us to understand "patterns of life" on Earth more deeply than ever before. But it is also provoking concerns about the erosion of personal privacy and national sovereignty, as private companies and individuals gain insights into our world that were once mostly the preserve of governments and their agencies."

Interesting facts from Thornhill's article:

- since 1957, 41,000 man-made objects have been launched into space although only 5% of them are thought to be still active

- some CubeSats can be as small as 10cm x 10cm x 10cm and cost as little as $20,000

- satellites have enough resolution to observe every big tree in the world every day

- the near-constant imaging of our entire planet (is) seeding a fast-growing industry in geospatial data analytics

- Planet bought a satellite photography business called Terra Bella OFF Google last year. The deal included 13 high resolution SkySat satellites.

- Google is pruning back some of its sprawling investments. In this case it took an equity position in Planet and is using its imagery to improve Google Maps

- Planet now has a fleet of 190 satellites in orbit which provide 1.3 million photographs a day

- Governments are among Planet's biggest customers, using the imagery for intelligence, border monitoring, disaster response and environmental observation

- One of the most striking patterns observed by Planet's satellites has been the construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea by the Chinese and the Vietnamese.

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