A Planet Labs Remote Satellite Terminal

Fairly far south, eh?

I just saw this post from New Zealand.  It’s about a remote satellite terminal located on the very southern tip of New Zealand, on the Awarua Plains.  From my Low Earth Orbit (LEO) lesson series and my “Troll:  Leaving the Bridge Behind” post, you can understand why the terminal is important.  You can also see why it would be important as a satellite communications terminal.

Planet Labs is operating over 20 satellites in orbit.  They are small, but they can take pictures.  So, Planet Labs needs to download all the images and other data its “dove” satellites have on nearly every orbit.  It would also like to know how the satellites are doing and upload command queues to the satellites about where to photograph next.  The Awarua terminal helps them tremendously because it’s so far south.  It’s obviously not as far south as the Troll remote terminal (operated by Kongsberg Satellite Services), which is located in Antarctica, but it’s maybe “south enough.”

I am unsure why Planet Labs is using Awarua, but have some ideas.  The news post makes it sound like the terminal is dedicated to Planet Labs, which is important.  Images from a satellite, particularly high resolution ones, take up a lot of bandwidth.  If a company has to share a terminal, that can cause delays in uploads and downloads from the satellite.  But a dedicated terminal minimizes the delay–especially one close to the pole.  Such polar proximity ensures the terminal will be in view of the Planet Labs satellites regularly and far more often than one located on the Earth’s equator.

The terminal might be more important to Planet Labs future plans, since the post’s news video points (not available for embedding, sorry) to Planet Labs wanting to use the terminal to talk to hundreds of its polar orbiting satellites–providing near real-time imagery.  This also means to me that Planet Labs will be using a terminal located near the North Pole–something like Tromso, which is also operated by Kongsberg Satellite Services.  But that would also mean sharing a terminal with satellites from competitors and others.

There’s very little information about this terminal, other than the news report.  It looks like it can get pretty chilly down in Awarua.  It also doesn’t sound like this is the only one that Planet Labs is using.


4 thoughts on “A Planet Labs Remote Satellite Terminal

  1. There is a little bit more on the Awarua Plains station at:


    Awarua is an ideal location for a satellite reception facility since it has good access to satellites covering Antarctica, where orbits tend to converge. Reception facilities do exist in Antarctica itself, but there are difficulties serving these stations even in the best of the seasons. By contrast, the Awarua site has good internet access and a benign environment.

    Well, ok, not exactly benign if there is a southerly blowing in from Antarctica, but the locals are friendly.


  2. Actually, sorry about the mistaken identity. The initial circle you sent me made it look like you worked for Planet Labs, Stephen. But you’re involved with Landcare Research, right? Sorry again!


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