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Earth-imaging specialist Planet details more powerful line of Pelican satellites

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A graphic rendering of a Pelican satellite.

Earth-imaging and data specialist Planet Labs on Thursday unveiled details of its new line of Pelican satellites, as the company looks to further expand and improve its space-based imagery capabilities.

Planet expects to begin launching the Pelican satellites in early 2023, with the constellation consisting of up to 32 spacecraft. The Pelican satellites will boast the ability to capture images up to a resolution of 30 centimeters, meaning each pixel shows more detail than the 50 centimeter resolution of Planet’s current 21 SkySat satellites in orbit.

“Pelican stacks right up to the highest resolution of what is commercially available today. The difference is the number that we can have, the more revisits that we can have and the real-time connectivity – and then also what you get with Planet as an unclassified source,” Planet co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer Robbie Schingler told CNBC.

The number of Pelican satellites planned will also boost another key metric for Planet: the revisit capability of its higher imagery products. Revisit is essentially how frequently a company’s satellites can image a targeted location on the ground.

Schingler says the Pelican constellation will be able to revisit up to 10 times per day for most of the globe, but up to 30 times per day at mid-latitudes – where the majority of people live on Earth. For comparison, Planet competitor Maxar advertises revisit of up to 15 times per day for its new WorldView Legion satellites.

Schingler emphasized that the Pelican’s spacecraft base “is built for speed of upgrade-ability,” and features inter-satellite links to further boost data delivery through the network. Planet is building the Pelican inter-satellite links in house.

The company has “a number of partnerships” with companies that operate satellite communications networks, Schingler said, to distribute Pelican data. Planet declined to specify which satellite communications companies.

Planet went public via a SPAC merger and began trading on the public market late last year. The stock has slid since that debut, however, with Planet shares at $5.63 as of Wednesday’s close – down nearly 50% since closing its merger.

Correction: Planet shares closed Wednesday at $5.63. An earlier version misstated the figure.

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