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A Startup Founded by Former NASA Scientists Just Landed $95 Million

A Startup Founded by Former NASA Scientists Just Landed $95 Million

Planet Labs satellite

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Planet Labs, a San Francisco-based private satellite operator founded by former NASA scientists, said on Tuesday it had raised $95 million to help build its business of selling satellite images and data to customers.

Data Collective, whose partner Zachary Bogue will join Planet Labs' board, led an equity funding round of $70 million. Western Technology Investment provided a debt facility of $25 million. All existing investors, including SpaceX backer Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, participated in the latest equity round.

Planet Labs is one of several startups aiming to harness technology allowing satellites to become smaller and less expensive, making it easier to deploy large networks of satellites at less risk and lower cost than previously.

As the pricetag of satellite images declines, the startups in the industry say they hope to interest a wider range of customers who would not previously have considered buying satellite-sourced data, or would have bought it sparingly.

Planet Labs publicly names only two customers: Woolpert, the Ohio-based engineering and design company, and Geoplex, the Melbourne, Australia-based mapping company.

Google acquired one of the new satellite players, Skybox, for $500 million last year.

As with all new technology, the satellite startups face setbacks, sometimes spectacular ones. In October, Planet Labs lost 26 satellites due for deployment via Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket, which exploded into a fireball just after launch in Wallops Island, Virginia.

Earlier this month, Planet Labs launched two more satellites on a Falcon 9 rocket designed by SpaceX, the rocket company run by entrepreneur Elon Musk. It has launched a total of 67 of its satellites, which it calls doves, it says.

Planet Labs' latest funding round is all primary, meaning going directly to the company rather than to buy the shares of existing investors, a spokesman said.

(Reporting by Sarah McBride; Editing by Diane Craft)

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