Eyes in the sky aim to pro­tect Earth’s rain­forests, re­sources

Iran Daily - - Cultural Heritage & Environment -

In the Brazil­ian state of Para, ev­ery week, au­thor­i­ties re­ceive alerts show­ing them which parts of the Ama­zon for­est have been chopped down, with photos to back it up.

The pic­tures are taken ev­ery day at 10:30 in the morn­ing by Amer­i­can satel­lites, of­fer­ing a de­tailed view of ev­ery three to five meters on the ground, AFP wrote.

An al­go­rithm helps re­veal au­to­mat­i­cally where log­ging has taken place.

The au­thor­i­ties send agents to investigate and po­ten­tially ap­pre­hend the sus­pects be­fore they do any more dam­age.

“It used to take six days, some­times two or three months with­out images,” said Iara Musse Felix, the CEO of SCCON, the com­pany which dis­trib­utes the alerts. “Now we have daily images.” This revo­lu­tion in for­est sur­veil­lance, and the Earth in gen­eral, comes from a con­stel­la­tion of satel­lites run by a com­pany called Planet.

Founded in San Fran­cisco in 2010 by three former NASA sci­en­tists, Planet is a leader in small satel­lites, which are eas­ier to pro­duce and re­place, and tend to have mis­sion lives of be­tween three and five years.

This eco­nomic model is vastly at odds with the tra­di­tional aero­space in­dus­try, which builds large, so­phis­ti­cated satel­lites that are far more pow­er­ful but take hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars to build.

Planet has placed 298 satel­lites in or­bit since 2013, and half of those were launched last year.

Some 150 are ac­tive to­day, 130 of which are nanosatel­lites.

The rest have fallen back to Earth and burned up on reen­try to the at­mos­phere.

‘Doves’

Th­ese so-called ‘Dove’ satel­lites are made in San Fran­cisco, at a new build­ing pre­sented this week dur­ing the Global Cli­mate Ac­tion Sum­mit here.

“One tech­ni­cian can build three Dove space­craft in a day,” said Ch­ester Gill­more, 33, the vice pres­i­dent of man­u­fac­tur­ing at Planet.

“You need about 10 tools to build one of our satel­lites.”

There is no ‘clean room’ here. Vis­i­tors walk in and out freely.

Elec­tronic com­po­nents are brought in on one side of the room, then tested, then as­sem­bled.

Doves are a for­mat known as ‘Cube­sat 3u’, in­clud­ing a 30-cen­time­ter cylin­der, equipped with an in­ter­nal cam­era and two so­lar pan­els which un­fold in or­bit.

Six com­pleted Doves wait on a cart to be sent to In­dia, where they will be loaded onto a rocket and sent into or­bit, some 300 miles (500 kilo­me­ters) above Earth.

We ‘just keep up­dat­ing it’, said the co-founder of Planet, Rob­bie Sch­in­gler, a former em­ployee of NASA.

“And that’s what we mas­tered, the abil­ity to take the lat­est chips, and tech­nolo­gies, from other in­dus­tries like au­to­mo­tive and con­sumer de­vices, take the 50 chips that are in­side here... and then make them work in aero­space.”

The re­sult is a daily im­age of ev­ery square kilo­me­ter of the Earth’s sur­face, ac­ces­si­ble on the In­ter­net.

The com­pany still does not turn a profit. But fu­ture op­por­tu­ni­ties abound for com­pa­nies that want to launch Earth sur­veil­lance across the world, whether to track hu­man­ity’s ac­tions on a global scale or to un­der­stand the preva­lence of drought.

Another project fi­nanced by the co-founder of Mi­crosoft, Paul Allen, in­volves surveilling coral reefs. Cam­eras on board the small Planet satel­lites al­low re­searchers to see whether they are bleach­ing, dy­ing or grow­ing.

When it comes to the Ama­zon rain­for­est, il­le­gal log­gers know that ev­ery day at 10:30 a.m., the ‘doves’ are watch­ing.

JOSH EDELSON/AFP

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