PHOTOS: How Planet Labs Is Saving The Earth With These Cheap Handmade Satellites

Planet Labs foundersPlanet Labs, Photo Credit: Signe BrewsterPlanet Labs founders Chris Boshuizen, Will Marshall, Robbie Schingler

Move over Elon Musk. There’s a new super cool startup founded by three NASA scientists that is also saving the world by launching things into space.

It’s called Planet Labs and it just raised $US52 million in funding from Russian tycoon Yuri Milner among a long list of others.

(Skip straight to the photos of the satellites and Earth.)

This is on top of raising $US13 million just a few months ago in June from backers like Innovation Endeavours (Google chairman Eric Schmidt’s investment vehicle), Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Data Collective (home to VC Zachary Bogue, also known as Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s husband).

Planet Labs founders created a way to quickly build imaging satellites from low-cost PCs running the Ubuntu Linux operating system.

The satellites are being used to take an unprecedented number of pictures of the earth. That data will help climatologists and other scientists study the earth. Planet Labs will also sell the data for commercial uses to imaginative entrepreneurs who need it.

In 2013, the San Francisco-based company launched four test satellites (named Dove 1, Dove 2, Dove 3, Dove 4) and then built a fleet of 28 more (named Flock 1). Flock 1 is waiting at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility to be launched very soon. When they hit orbit, they will be “the largest constellation of Earth imaging satellites ever launched,” the co-founders say.

“Most people spend years building any one satellite. We, at the max, spent months building this fleet of satellites,” co-founder Will Marshall told Business Insider. “We won’t tell what it cost us … a much lower cost than a typical satellite or it wouldn’t be possible to build so many.”

Once the Fleet is launched it should be possible, for the first time, to just about see the whole globe at once.

Planet Labs shared some pictures with us.

Here's a good look at a Planet Labs satellite, a member of the largest ever fleet of imaging satellites.

Production manager Chester Gillmore assembling a satellite with a screwdriver.

Engineer Ben Howard is testing a satellite. It took less than six months to build 28 of them.

Planet Labs calls this the Dove Nest 1, a rack filled with satellites.

Unlike other space objects, it doesn't require 10-200 people to manage each craft. 'One-to-three people can operate a whole fleet,' co-founder Robbie Schingler told us.

Here's a few prototypes.

This is the Dove 4 satellite complete with its solar panels.

This is the very first picture a Planet Labs satellite ever sent back to earth of the forests in Gales Creek, Oregon. Co-founder Robbie Schingler uses it as his PC wallpaper. Note the river and firebreak/path on the right.

Here is Babb, Montana. You can see a road and a river, as well as a small dam and the interesting-looking canals and viaduct in the south.

Here's a look at farms between two rivers in Lamona, Washington. You can also see the craggy cliffs on the river bend at the top of the photo.

Here is Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan, with a good shot of the city of Kakegawa. That round building on the bottom, above the '20' is the Shizuoka stadium.

This is Droga Krajowa 11, Poland. When the founders were raising funds, they promised their tech 'could count every tree on the planet,' and these pictures from the test satellites proved it.

This gorgeous shot is the Sea Ice, Gulf of Bothnia between Sweden and Finland. You can't quite count the snowflakes but they are clearly there.

Now take a look at the tiniest tech

Dr. Emanuel Lörtscher, the architect of the quietest room on earth, looks out through a hole in the wall.

PHOTOS: This Is The Quietest Place On Earth

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