Over the past few years technology companies have started to build something akin to a computing shell around the Earth, where satellites gather massive amounts of photos and other measurements and artificial intelligence software systems analyze the data. The results can be quite spectacular. It’s no longer enough for systems like these to count every tree on the Earth’s surface; now they aim to measure each one’s health, size, and species to compute their total biomass and ability to pull carbon dioxide out of the air.
Advances in hardware and machine-learning software are vastly expanding what’s possible with satellite data. Once the province of government-backed research, the most ambitious work today comes from private companies. Startups in the field say they want to assist scientists grappling with climate change by providing precise data about the health of the planet. But they’re also chasing profits and counting on the information they’re generating being valuable to those judging whether corporate and government programs to better the environment are effective.
One of the most ambitious startups in the field is Muon Space. While other companies have focused on one part of the process—maintaining networks of satellites, say, or creating computer models to monitor specific situations such as wildfires or methane leaks—Muon wants to do it all. Founded by a team of satellite experts and scientists, it plans to launch a fleet of satellites designed to analyze Earth’s atmosphere, land, and water in fine detail. The company will combine measurements from its own equipment with decades of publicly available satellite data to create a meticulously detailed picture of the planet’s ecosystems.
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