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U.S. startup offers satellite data to help relief work in Nepal

SAN FRANCISCO, May 4 — San Francisco-based startup Planet Labs has used its small fleet of tiny satellites to help with relief work in Nepal, by providing imagery of the affected areas before and after the earthquake on April 25.

"Most of the satellites out there can only provide images that are either a few weeks or months old, depending on the source," a Planet Labs spokesperson told Xinhua. "We can offer up-to-date, reliable images of the different areas of the world, and we made our historical data on Nepal available."

A statement from the startup said it would capture additional post-earthquake imagery, providing continuous updates via its platform.

It granted tool access to all requesting organizations such as World Bank, World Vision International and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research. Thanks to its army of low- cost satellites, each no larger than a shoe box, the company can provide its clients with real-time monitoring of the earth.

Planet Labs was founded in 2012 by Chris Boshuizen, a former employee of the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), who envisioned a sky carpeted with hundreds of small satellites. It launched its first array of 28 small satellites, called Flock 1, last year and is expect to deploy at least 70 more in the coming months.

The satellites are built and then loaded on a commercial rocket, which is launched into space to be deployed into orbit. Once in space, they are aligned to orbit the globe and take photos of the earth's surface. The images are compiled and used by customers to monitor specific areas of interest like agriculture, building development or deforestation.

Undeterred by possible complaints of privacy breach, Planet Labs claims its satellites are used mostly to survey areas for different innocuous purposes such as keeping track of crops around the world or monitoring wildlife areas.

"It is not possible to see anyone's face or license plate, there's not enough resolution for that, so we are not concerned about anything dealing with espionage or privacy issues," the spokesman said.

Planet Labs recently closed Series C round of fundraising at 118 million U.S. dollars. The round was led by Data Collective Venture Capital and International Finance Corporation, which is linked to World Bank, bringing its total funding to date to 183 million dollars.

It is not alone. Other firms, such as Skybox Imaging, which has over 20 satellites in space and was bought by Google last year, are also vying for the market. (PNA/Xinhua)


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