Scale (11/19/21 Newsletter)

To: Payload Subscribers

November 19, 2021

Good morning. Payload programming note: We’ll be off Thursday and Friday of next week, so that we may sufficiently cope with tryptophan.

In today’s newsletter…
🌍 $PL’s pitch
🚀 LV0007
📚 Weekend recs

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 Talk Your Book, Planet Edition

Image: Planet

Planet Labs is nearly ready to take its talents to the public markets at a $2.8B valuation. Yesterday, Planet’s C-suite held court with investors to sell the vision. 

A decade of history in ~60 words: Planet set out to image and index all of Earth every day. The company developed a constellation of 200 satellites, created the “agile aerospace” assembly method, and built a vast customer base (600+ across 65 countries). Planet now does nine figures in revenue, pulling in $100M in its last fiscal year. 

Let’s run down the key themes from Planet investor day. (NB: talking points are from Planet, not Payload.)

  1. Scale: At ~200 satellites, Planet’s constellation is the largest EO fleet to ever exist in LEO. Planet’s birds—literally named Dove, SuperDove, and Pelican—take 3M photos a day. 
  2. The “one-to-many” model: Sell the same imagery to multiple customers.
  3. Speed: Planet has a “multi-year lead” over competing constellation operators. 
  4. Data advantage: Planet is sitting on a database of 1B+ images. Its satellites have a high cadence revisit. The volume of data—daily Earth scans over time, essentially—is a huge asset for Planet’s AI team. And the value of this data compounds. 
  5. Defensibility: Planet’s imagery is proprietary, so its platform has sizable switching costs.
  6. Lock-in: 90% of customers pay on an annual subscription basis. 

The next chapter: Planet is expanding into new vertical markets. The company also aims to pull off the platform play. It wants to “move up the stack” from proprietary imagery to software analytics layers. 

Payload takeway: Planet is pitching itself a data subscription business with recurring revenue and software-style margins, CEO and cofounder Will Marshall said yesterday.

Essentially, according to Planet, it’s a SaaS business that also makes satellites. If investors agree, Planet could fetch a valuation multiple more on par with software businesses, rather than space players. We’ll find out soon whether investors agree…


 All Eyes on LV-0007

Image: Astra

Astra is preparing for its LV0007 mission from its Kodiak, AK spaceport. The small launcher’s new target, pushed back from Thursday, is 6 PM EST tonight (Nov. 19).

What’s riding on this launch? 

  • Literally: A dummy payload for the US Space Force. 
  • Figuratively: Much more.

Astra went public via SPAC in July of this year. It has yet to prove itself as a reliable launch company to investors (not that it’s an easy task). And after Astra’s last mission, LV0006, failed, investor scrutiny has only intensified.

LV0006: Astra’s last launch was terminated after about 2.5 minutes when a propellant leak in one of the five engines caused the rocket to drift sideways in flight. The company said it had learned from those mistakes and fixed the problem for the LV0007 mission.

Takeaway: As a publicly traded rocket developer, Astra is especially sensitive to the public eye. And all eyes are on LV0007.


Firefly Aerospace provides cost-effective, convenient access to space for both full-vehicle and ride-share missions. Firefly’s Alpha launch vehicle is capable of delivering 1,000 kg to LEO and 630 kg to 500 km SSO.

Email [email protected] to discuss your mission!


In Other News

  • Via LeoLabs: “There will be some potential collision risk to most satellites in LEO from the fragmentation of Cosmos 1408 over the next few years to decades.”
  • SES ordered two GEO satellites to support its TV service in Europe.
  • The FCC granted market access to Kinéis, a French IoT startup, for an LEO constellation.
  • Flooding in the Pacific Northwest is visible from space. 
  • Blue Origin offered to subsidize HLS development by ~$3B, per court docs released Thursday. Blue’s initial offer was $2B. 

Weekend Recs

Three things to send you off into the weekend.  

🎙️ ICYMI, check out Payload CEO Mo Islam’s appearances on the Space Business and Billion Moonshot podcasts. 

🛰️ Watch Ansys’s simulated rendition of Russia’s ASAT test. The animation effectively visualizes the hypothesized trajectory of a missile launched from Plesetsk, Russia, vs. that of the blown up satellite and the ISS. 

📚 If you really want to dig deep into something, check out State of the Industrial Base 2021. Senior US government and national security officials, industry execs, and experts from academia penned the report, which clocks in at 124 pages.

  • TLDR: The US space industrial base is “tactically strong but strategically fragile.” 
  • Major US opportunities: a robust cislunar economy, space standardization across democracies, working with commercial satellite operators, building out a space internet, and creating a space “superhighway” for logistics.

The View from Space

Image: NASA, ESA, and J. Tan (Chalmers University of Technology); Processing; Gladys Kober (NASA/Catholic University of America)