Planet Labs Strikes a SPAC Deal at $2.8 Billion Valuation
(Bloomberg) -- Planet Labs Inc., which uses a network of satellites to photograph the daily happenings on Earth, plans to become the latest private space company to go public.
On Wednesday, Planet revealed that it will join with dMY Technology Group IV, Inc., a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), with the hopes of trading on the NYSE by the fourth quarter under the ticker symbol “PL.” Through this arrangement and additional investments from Marc Benioff’s TIME Ventures and Google, Planet expects to raise about $545 million to put toward its business of manufacturing, launching and operating hundreds of satellites in Low Earth Orbit. Based in San Francisco, Planet reported more than $100 million in revenue during its last fiscal year and is being valued at $2.8 billion for the SPAC deal.
“This really is a milestone that enables us to fundamentally accelerate our business,” said Will Marshall, the co-founder and CEO of Planet.
Founded in 2010, Planet followed on the heels of Elon Musk’s SpaceX to help inject new life into the private space industry. Where SpaceX sought to lower the cost and increase the frequency of rocket launches, Planet sought to make a new breed of smaller, less expensive satellites that could work together to perform complex tasks. The first machines Planet built are called “Doves” — shoebox-sized satellites packed with imaging equipment. More than 150 of the satellites constantly circle the Earth taking pictures.
This type of imagery work used to be done by governments or government contractors with very large satellites that could cost upwards of $1 billion each and take a decade to design and launch into space. The images produced by such satellites tended to be rare and expensive and often controlled by government bodies. Planet, by contrast, with its lower cost approach aimed to place many more satellites into orbit and produce a more complete picture of what was happening on a day-to-day basis on Earth.
Because the Doves are smaller than traditional imaging satellites, they cannot take pictures at the highest resolutions. Still, Planet is able to manufacture and replace its devices faster than the traditional players, which lets it update the hardware with the latest optical and computing technology. Over the years, Planet has also acquired fleets of larger satellites that take higher-resolution pictures than its Doves.
All told, Planet snaps 3 million images per day across more than 150 million square miles. It has, on average, 1,500 pictures for each spot on Earth, and the images are taken at regular intervals over time. The pictures are not detailed enough to see something like a person’s face but are good enough to make out cars and other objects in a cityscape.
The images produced by the satellites are used for a wide range of tasks. Farmers buy them to check on the health of their crops and to pinpoint the best times to harvest. Wall Street firms use them to check on the supply of oil in storage tanks and the pace of industrial activity in different regions. Governments purchase the photos to monitor military stockpiles and troop movements. And a variety of non-profits and political and environmental organizations tap into Planet’s archive to monitor things like deforestation, the health of coral reefs and the status of refugee camps.
Niccolo de Masi, the CEO of dMY IV, said he views Planet fundamentally as a data subscription service that has an established lead over coming competitors. “There’s already ten years of data that no one can ever catch up on and replicate,” he said. “This is also not a situation where they’re saying, ‘Trust us. We will have revenue some day.’ Planet has nine figures of revenue already.”
To date, Planet has raised more than $400 million from investors and venture capital firms like Data Collective (DCVC), Yuri Milner and Capricorn Investment Group. Existing Planet shareholders will hold onto 77 percent of the company, following the SPAC deal, according to the company. Planet expects to raise $345 million through the acquisition by dMY IV and another $200 million from funds and accounts managed by BlackRock.
Marshall said that much of the new money will go toward building out Planet’s sales and marketing teams and improving its software. A continued area of interest going forward for Planet will be tapping its imagery to monitor and calculate the environmental toll of businesses. “We have seen the whole world is striving to boot into a sustainable economy,” Marshall said. “Companies want to measure their supply chains and emissions. All of that work starts with data.”
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