Planet Labs co-founders Chris Boshuizen (left), Robbie Schingler (middle), and Will Marshall horse around with a Dove at their office in San Francisco, California.

Planet Labs co-founders Chris Boshuizen (left), Robbie Schingler (middle), and Will Marshall horse around with a Dove at their office in San Francisco, California.

DEANNE FITZMAURICE

Feature: How tiny satellites spawned in Silicon Valley will monitor a changing Earth

For decades, engineers have been building satellites like bespoke Swiss watches, sparing no expense and spending years to perfect them. Enter the CubeSat, a cheap and small satellite form factor that is gaining momentum and finally starting to perform real science: In 2014, a record 132 were launched. Planet Labs, based in San Francisco, California, is the poster child for the movement, and a prime example of Silicon Valley ideals and technology being applied to aerospace. For less than $1 million, the company can build and launch a CubeSat telescope that it calls a Dove. With 5-meter resolution or better, each Dove can make out trees and buildings. If it can get between 150 and 200 Doves in orbit, the company will fulfill its overriding mission to assemble a daily snapshot of the entire Earth. This time-lapse flipbook will reveal flooding on rivers, logging in forests, and road building in cities, as they happen. Commercial companies—and earth scientists—are eager to get their hands on the data.

To read the full story, see the 10 April issue of Science.

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