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Under a NASA contract, Planet sends data to federal civilian entities

Researchers exploring biodiversity loss, climate change, and other topics through projects funded by United States federal civilian agencies and the National Science Foundation will have access to Planet Earth-observation data through September 2022, according to a NASA agreement published September 14.

The announcement follows NASA’s intention in July to render Planet data, which had earlier been limited to NASA-funded research, more readily available. Around 300,000 contractors, researchers, and grantees who receive monies from federal civilian agencies and NSF will finally have accessibility to the data, according to Planet in a September 14 press release.

“NASA has taken the lead in partnering with the commercial space industry,” Planet co-founder and chief strategy officer (CSO) Robbie Schingler said in a statement. “This new contract further underscores their dedication to both climate change and commercial space.” “During this critical decade for climate action, NASA has made it much easier for academics to access extensive datasets that can be used to monitor and address the current climate challenge, and we aim to continue to cooperate on this important work.”

Planet, a ten-year-old company that plans to go public through a merger with dMY Technology Group, Incorporated IV, a special-purpose acquisition firm, couldn’t have received the NASA contract at a better time. Planet’s fleet of approximately 150 Dove cubesats and high-resolution imagery from the 21 SkySats, providing daily Earth images.

NASA’s Earth Science Division awarded Planet a $6.7 million contract in 2019 for data to track crucial climate indicators. The award granted through Commercial SmallSat Data Acquisition Program, which happened in the year 2020, will cover NASA employees, contractors, and NASA-funded research. Planet received a $2.24 million contract from NASA in July to communicate data with civilian government agencies and National Science Foundation until September 2021. It was recently extended till September 2022. Planet received $6.2 million for the first task order under the new arrangement, according to the USA spending website, for data given until January 13, 2022.

“Extended accessibility to Planet data for all federally-funded scientists is a revolutionary for academics striving to figure out what’s now happening with the rapidly-changing globe,” said Joe Levy, a professor at Colgate University who studies permafrost landsystems. “Working on NSF-funded studies in Antarctica with Planet data means being able to track changes in polar regions of Earth practically every day of the week, the sun is up. On a daily basis, we’re seeing changes in where ground ice continues to melt, when the meltwater is flowing, and also how the once-frozen landscapes are changing.”

Hannah Kerner, who works at the University of Maryland, College Park, as an assistant research professor and the machine learning lead for NASA Harvest, a Food Security and Agriculture Initiative, also lauded the Planet contract. “As a collaboration spanning multiple organizations and universities, the ability to share data and mutually improve research methodology is important for achieving our goals,” Kerner said in a statement.

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