Eyes in the sky

What Earth observation from space reveals about our planet

Successful space companies are sending up satellites to help improve life on Earth

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Earth observation: Falcon 9 rocket
Photo: Gene Blevins (Reuters)

This is the full transcript for season 4, episode 5 of the Quartz Obsession podcast on Earth observation.

Listen on: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google | Stitcher

Nalis: In one of the weirdest turns the news has taken in a while, you might recall that in February of 2023, just a few weeks ago, the US was basically at war with… a balloon?

News announcer: We’ve got some breaking news to get to, apparently there’s a suspected Chinese spy balloon?

News announcer 2: The US government, monitoring right now a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon, hovering…


News announcer 3: The suspected Chinese spy balloon is floating over the northern US.

Nalis: A China spy balloon to be precise—which could be the name of a sci-fi parody, but instead, is real life.


News announcer 4: The military shot down that balloon off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 4.

Basically, the US and Canada found a few unidentified objects hovering over the skies, and turns out, they were very curious Chinese spy devices.

But isn’t that what satellites are for? Can China spy on the world from outer space already? Turns out, no, not really.

The idea of Earth observation conjures dystopian surveillance state kind of images, but it’s actually something very different. The most successful space companies funded in the last decade aren’t focusing on colonizing Mars or giving private tours of the moon.


They’re sending satellites up there to take pictures of our planet, for the most part, to improve life on Earth: monitoring weather patterns, deforestation, secret arsenals, and even human rights violations. But how do we get to see all of that from space? Is there a space-generated livestream of Earth imagery? Who owns it and how can we use it to improve life on Earth?

I’m Annalisa Merelli, Nalis for short, and this is the Quartz Obsession. Today: Earth Observation.


I have here my colleague Tim Fernholz, a senior reporter at Quartz and the host of our Space Business newsletter. He’s the author of Rocket Billionaires, a history of the recent revolution in space technology.

Welcome, Tim. I am very behind on reading your newsletter and know nothing about space business and Earth observation. You know everything about it. So this is going to be great.


Tim: It’s lovely to be here with you today.

Nalis: So before this whole, you know, spy balloon situation, I feel like I didn’t hear very much in mainstream news, at least, about Earth observation. Space rockets, yes. Space exploration, sure. SpaceX, of course, but satellite imagery doesn’t seem like it gets that much hype. Can you tell us a bit more about what it is and how it works?


Tim: You know, when we talk about Earth observation, it’s pretty straightforward. We’re talking about people taking sensors, devices that we’ve built that can detect things from far away, and putting them on spacecraft that circle the Earth and can observe it from above. And just like standing on top of a tall hill, putting a sensor in space gives it a better view and the possibility to collect very useful data.

Nalis: And why do you think that’s important to get that kind of data, like what does it do that we can’t really get to from within the planet?


Why is Earth observation from space important?

Tim: Well, I know you just said you don’t see a lot of satellite imagery in the news, but I think you might be mistaken, just because if you look at the war in Ukraine right now, a lot of the way people outside of Ukraine have experienced that has been through images taken by commercial satellite companies and governments of Russian troop movements, of bridges that have been destroyed, of cities that have been bombed—all of these things that make up the conflict we can now see from our living rooms, and perhaps more importantly, military planners and intelligence agencies can see and utilize. And that’s sort of the beginning of Earth observation because it did emerge from sort of military technology programs. But now it is used for everything from weather forecasting to navigation to investment. Farmers use satellite imagery, archeologists use satellite imagery, climate change regulators use satellite imagery. It is touching on almost every aspect of business and industry and science that takes place on the Earth.


Nalis: Can we take a step back and kind of look at how this started? Like when, how long has it been since we, you know, we’ve been able to get images from outside the planet?

What is the history of Earth observation?

Tim: Well, the first image taken from space was taken in 1946, and it was a modified V2 rocket that the US launched from New Mexico with a bunch of Nazi scientists on hand, and it had a little camera on top and it snapped a picture of the southwest United States. That was the first time that anyone had ever taken a picture from outside of the Earth’s atmosphere.


Nalis: And what did that image look like?

Tim: So the first image, you know, it’s not good. It looks like, you know, you’re flying on a rocket and you snapped a picture and you can just sort of see the curvature of the Earth. You can see the clouds over the southwest United States as a black and white photo. This is 1946. And it was, you know, the rocket came down and smashed into the ground and they dug the camera out of the rubble and they developed the film and apparently all the scientists went wild when they projected it on the wall. I mean, these are people who have been thinking about space flight and leaving the Earth’s atmosphere for many decades. You know, the history of rocket science development goes back to the 19th century. And so the first time they were able to see what it looks like on the planet from space was a watershed moment. And the picture was not particularly useful, but it was a proof of concept for future activities.


Nalis: So, you know, we have that great-great-grandparent of current imagery, like satellite imagery. What does the comparable image look like today? Like, what do we see, you know, with the latest development in satellite imagery?

The latest developments in satellite imagery

Tim: So today, anyone can get access very cheaply to full color imagery taken top down of pretty much any location on Earth’s landmass. So, all of optical satellite imagery is referred to by its resolution, how large of an area of the Earth it’s cramming into a pixel in the photo you’re looking at. And so now you can see satellite imagery at about a meter per pixel, which lets you see vehicles and buildings and plants, you know, infrastructure… pretty much everything that stands still and is bigger than a meter across.


Nalis: And how detailed are those images? Like, you know, can the details of a person’s face be seen from space, or are we, you know, a little bit further away from that?

Tim: Not in imagery that I have seen. One of the caveats here is that the US government has an extensive top secret satellite reconnaissance operation that everyone sort of assumes is probably much more powerful than anything in the commercial realm. But still, I do not think that they have the ability to identify people.


Nalis: And, let’s look a little bit at the commercial realm, because that’s, you know, very interesting and kind of an area where there’s been a lot of movement, a lot of development in the past decade. Is that correct?

The rise of a commercial space industry

Tim: Yeah, right now we are at the forefront of private investment in space-Earth observation. Since the success of SpaceX and its Falcon 9 reusable rocket have made it much cheaper to put things in orbit around the Earth, a new industry has sprung up doing satellite imagery for commercial customers and for governments much more cheaply than it has been done before.


Nalis: So, you know, you said it’s cheaper and easier now to put the satellites up into space. Before we get to that, how did this used to happen? Like, you know, 30 years ago or 20 years ago, if I wanted to send up my satellites, how long would it take and what would it entail?

Tim: So, it’s funny that you say 30 years ago, because it was only in 1992 that the US even allowed private companies to take satellite imagery. So I mean, in the early days of this, this would be a government program where like a big contractor would build this satellite and a government rocket would launch it. And so the people who had satellites in the 60s, 70s, and 80s were the Soviet Union, the United States, France, India, and that’s basically it. And it was just too expensive and the data they collected was mainly reserved for military and intelligence applications. The first real civil Earth observation satellite was launched in 1972. It was called Landsat. And that program continues to this day providing all kinds of data used by scientists and everyday people. But that was the first time that was collected for civilian purposes.


Nalis: So after the 90s, what would companies do? Because I presume back then it would still be very expensive. Like what would be the motivation of a private company to send a satellite—to develop a satellite—and then send it up into space?

The emergence of private space companies

Tim: The motivation was, to make money, of course. One of the interesting reasons that the US finally allowed private companies to get into this was: After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia was cash-strapped, but it still had these world-class space assets. And so they started selling their satellite imagery on the open market. And so it became clear that for the US, you know, keeping all the satellite imagery secret didn’t really matter if Russia was just going to turn around and sell it to everyone. And so they said, “All right, let’s let private companies get into this.”


But even in the early days, now you’re talking in the 90s, you know, hundreds of millions of dollars to build the satellite, hundreds of millions of dollars to launch it. And the data transmission was very slow. So you were still collecting data that was useful, but there wasn’t a huge market for it. A lot of it was the government. One sort of telling thing: You know, the first privately owned imaging satellite was launched in 1999. It was called IKONOS, I think that’s the right way to pronounce it. And one of the first major business deals it did was when the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, the US government bought the exclusive rights to all of its imagery of Afghanistan and Central Asia just to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Taliban or Al Qaeda. Now, I don’t know how seriously either of those groups was pursuing that satellite imagery, but it speaks to what the government saw as its value. But even at that time, governments were still sort of the main buyers of this stuff.

Nalis: So flash forward to the more recent past. Is SpaceX what actually changed this industry.


What is SpaceX’s impact on space technology?

Tim: Yeah, SpaceX has been a major part of the revolution in space technology that is happening right now. And it’s because of one thing. It’s because they have focused on making it cheaper to go to space. So in the 90s, it might have cost you $10,000 per kilogram of object that you want to send up into space. So if you have a satellite that weighs a couple tons, multiply that, and it’s a huge amount of money. Whereas today, if you want to launch a satellite, it might cost $1,500 per kilogram, so that’s almost 10 times cheaper. And that is mainly driven by the Falcon 9, which is SpaceX’s rocket. It is a reusable rocket, and it is the cheapest vehicle we have to launch stuff into space, and it was built with an emphasis on that. Prior to SpaceX, defense contractors working for the government did not really worry about cutting costs or saving money or efficiency. They just delivered a rocket that would work for as much money as they could get for it.


Nalis: I guess a big thing for SpaceX too is that beyond their own success, it sort of showed that you can make money in outer space, and so it ended up encouraging entrepreneurship even for other companies...

Tim: You’re absolutely right. You know, there were many attempts at doing privately funded space companies before SpaceX, particularly rocket companies, and most of them failed. And so when SpaceX succeeded, it convinced investors, particularly venture capitalists, that you could make money in space and it would be worth trying to back some of these startups trying to, you know, launch satellites to do Earth observation or a bunch of other business models that exist.


Nalis: All right, so we have our SpaceX rocket and we want to send our satellite into space. How does that happen? Do I need, like, a whole… do I need to, like, first of all, do I need to book the whole rocket? Can I, you know, rideshare with other satellite companies? How does that go?

How technological innovation increased efficiency

Tim: You can definitely rideshare with other satellite companies and that’s been a huge change and a huge enabler of everybody to get up on orbit. And it’s basically not just cost, although cost is really important, it’s also frequency. If you’re starting a business and you raise an amount of money to build a satellite and launch it with the hopes of generating revenue off of it when it is in space, doing something, if you need to wait years to put that satellite in orbit, you’re basically paying your staff and your office rent and whatever else, and not making any money. So now if you can launch your satellite within six months, suddenly, you know, a lot of business models can close.


And the other thing is, there’s all of this technological innovation happening in the same time period. People love to use the iPhone as an example. Suddenly you have an incredibly powerful long battery life computer that fits in your pocket. And when you look at that and you think, “Oh, well this does, you know, what a huge computer would’ve done a decade ago.” The same difference in scale allows you to put basically an iPhone in space and do a lot of what a huge satellite would’ve done, much more cheaply. But that also allows you to prototype and iterate and experiment much more quickly than you could have when you were building one huge hundreds of millions of dollars satellite, one shot to launch it. If it gets to orbit, it has to work. And that leads you to spend a huge amount of money on engineering and testing and all of those things. Whereas if you can iterate quickly and launch prototypes and see what works, you are so much more efficient in bringing a product to market. So that is a big part of it, uh, as well.

Nalis: So you have all these satellites with various different tasks going onto the same rocket. How do they make sure that they end up in the right spot?


Tim: So there’s a bunch of different ways that that happens, but to sort of generalize, because a lot of satellites are designed differently, when you have satellites launched into space on a rocket, they’re sort of just attached to the rocket. But the rocket is moving at orbital velocity, which is like 17,500 miles per hour.

Nalis: That’s insane.

Tim: And as it’s going through space, it will just… it’s called deploying, but think of it as ejecting those satellites as it goes, and it pops one out and it waits a little longer and ejects another. So they’re sort of out in like a trail, behind the spacecraft as it goes, and then these satellites, some of them will have propulsion systems, little engines that allow them to maneuver. Some of them can do what’s called changing their drag coefficient, so they have gyroscopes inside them and that allows them to twist the satellite’s body so it has more drag and that can slow it down and separate it from another spacecraft. So there’s all kinds of little tricks that satellite operators use to sort of spread out and identify their spacecraft after they’re deployed in orbit.


Nalis: And I just thought about this, but how did they do it before? Like with the old satellites, before the SpaceX rocket lift, like how would the satellites get in into their right orbit, or like right position in orbit?

Tim: So typically there would only really be one or two very large satellites on board one of these rockets. So they would fly directly to where the satellite had to go and deploy it there. And also these large satellites often have their own pretty sophisticated engines, and they can maneuver themselves in space to get where they’re going.


Nalis: Is this the only way that satellites get deployed into the right orbit, or are there any others?

What’s driving innovation in satellite technology?

Tim: So one of the key drivers in the innovation of satellite technology right now is something called the CubeSat. And this was originally developed by some college professors in California who wanted to give their engineering students, like, a hands-on opportunity to put a real satellite in space. And basically it’s a satellite that is the size of a shoebox. You know, think about the iPhone factor again. You can cram enough electronics and batteries and solar panels and everything else into a tiny little box and put that in space to do something for you.


And that immediately changed how people thought about satellites because in the old days, the idea would be a huge, expensive satellite that would fly very, very, very high above the Earth. And now you’re making these cheap satellites. You can make a ton of them. They’re very small. You can fly them closer to the Earth and just replace them when they go away. But we didn’t really have, like, a really good way to launch these into space because at the time, most of the rockets that were going up were either taking one big satellite, or it was the space shuttle that was going up to the International Space Station. And so these first CubeSats were essentially deployed by hand. They would fly to the International Space Station, and then an astronaut or a cosmonaut would take them, put on a spacesuit, step out the airlock, and basically chuck them in a sort of appropriately timed way out into space, and they would then do their thing.

Nalis: OK, so now we’ve established that, you know, there’s this new possibilities of making money by putting your satellites into space and sending imaging back on Earth. Who are the biggest players in the industry at the moment?


The biggest players in the industry

Tim: So there’s a bunch! Maxar is maybe the largest right now. It’s a company that used to be public, but was just bought for $6.4 billion by private equity investors. There’s a company called Planet that is publicly traded and operates the largest Earth observation constellation. Another called Spire; the European company Airbus operates a bunch of these businesses. There’s startups called, like, HawkEye 360 and Capella and ISI. But of course there’s also, you know, NASA and NOAA, which are civil agencies in the US, the European Space Agency, intelligence agencies around the world... Also a bevy of Chinese startups and government agencies. So there’s a lot of people doing this, but from the private sector point of view, it’s really an American and European thing. Although the Chinese are catching up.


Nalis: And is all that they do and, you know, I know this sounds a bit diminutive, but like, is… do they only take photographs of the Earth? Is it, you know, the primary output of the satellites?

What is remote sensing?

Tim: No, they collect all kinds of data beyond just what human eyes can see. We have sensors that can look at all different chunks of the electromagnetic spectrum. So beyond just red, green, and blue, we can see infrared, which lets us tell the temperatures of things. We can see something called “red edge,” which helps us detect chlorophyll and photosynthesis in plants. We can use radar to detect and measure objects. Even if you think about GPS, which we think about as a navigation technology, that’s also really remote sensing. We’re detecting the locations of the satellites above and triangulating where we are below on the planet. So all kinds of things are collected in space.


Nalis: And, who owns this kind of data? Who gets access to, you know, the information on the chlorophyll levels of the Amazon? Is it private companies? Can I go on a website and find it? Is it only governments? Like, how’s that information distributed?

Who can access the satellite data?

Tim: Totally depends on what you’re looking for and who gathered it. So, the US government maintains a publicly accessible database of all kinds of information like that, collected by the Landsat satellites and others. But a lot of the data that is exciting people today is collected by private companies and some of that is provided... Like, for instance, right now, anyone who is a recipient of a NASA or a National Science Foundation research grant has free access to Planet’s data.


But other companies pay for that, and it really depends. One of the sort of challenging things I think right now is: all of the companies that are collecting this Earth observation data, their customers mainly right now are people who are already using it. So it’s intelligence agencies that are already using it. It is people in the geospatial information sector, uh, mapmakers, cartographers, research scientists… All of these people can get access to this data and know how to use it, which can be pretty complicated. Sometimes it’s mathematical, sometimes it is doing complex transformations and analysis of this imagery.

But what is more exciting is that all of these companies are trying to figure out how to get this data into more people’s hands. And often that involves not giving them an image, but giving them like a spreadsheet or giving them just a
“yes” or “no.” You know, did something happen in this area that you care about?


If you are, for instance, a, you know, regulator in Brazil, you might get an email saying, “Oh, a chunk of forest disappeared at this location on these dates.” And that might be helpful to you. The company Planet is working with the state of California and a bunch of nonprofits to launch a satellite constellation called Carbon Mapper that will track methane leaks at wellheads or pipelines or wherever methane might be leaking. So that one, they can tell people to stop the leak, but two, regulators can say, “Hey, you’ve had a leak here for six months. I’m fining you until you fix this.”

So we’re just starting to get to the point where this kind of space data is no longer just the province of three-letter agencies or huge companies. Now it’s becoming more and more accessible to individuals and to smaller companies and to NGOs as they figure out, sort of in concert with the companies providing it, how they can use this.


Nalis: And I was thinking again about that example you made about the Taliban in Afghanistan, and I was wondering if with all of this imaging, if there is a danger of it, sort of like, falling into the wrong hands at all… Is there any concern, say about privacy or, I don’t know, like, unfair competition? Or, like, international spying? Like how does that play around it?

Tim: It’s definitely a big part of the conversation right now, and I think there’s a couple ways to look at it. One is that, you know, we’ve seen situations where the US government—the major, you know, user of satellite data—has publicly made claims about intelligence that they have, and done things based on those claims, when it turned out that intelligence was not true (thinking about WMD in Iraq).


And so what’s interesting now is: Whenever the US government comes out and says, you know, “China is doing XYZ in the South China Sea,” or you know, “North Korea is testing weapons,” there is now an independent method for NGOs and journalists and whoever else to verify and say, “Oh, is the US government making shit up, or is there actually a thing happening here?”

So that is one thing that is like a positive of this information becoming more widespread. But then, and people in this field think about this quite a bit, what happens if the wrong people get it? So you think about the Taliban example that you just mentioned. A more recent example is that the US government just sanctioned a Chinese Earth observation company that was providing space radar imagery to the Wagner Group, which are Russian mercenaries that are operating in Ukraine. So you’re already seeing arguably quite bad actors there getting access to this data.


But I think it sort of comes down to how you think about transparency and information. There is a lot of information that is publicly available in libraries and on the internet that can be used by bad actors. And so the question is, you know, what do people who purvey this information have to do to be responsible with it? So there are many people in the satellite world who will use the phrase “stale data saves lives.” Where you don’t want to present real-time data that could be used in, say, a conflict zone or where atrocities are being committed. But at the same time, we’ve also seen the genocide against the Uyghurs or against the Rohingya in Myanmar were essentially revealed to the world by satellite images. You know, if we didn’t see those reeducation camps, if we didn’t see the massive internal displacement in Myanmar, it would be much harder for us around the world to say, “Oh, there are crimes against humanity going on.”

Nalis: What is the law when it comes to space? Like is there any sort of agreement that looks in, who can send up, you know, satellites where? You know, does any country have the upper hand when it comes to regulating it?


Tim: So space is a very lightly regulated realm right now. Almost everything that goes on in space is mediated by the UN Outer Space Treaty, which basically has like a bare minimum of requirements for avoiding interfering with other people, for avoiding interfering with radio transmissions, not crashing into each other… functionally that’s what it does. So really anyone with sufficient technical knowledge and money can launch a satellite and put it in orbit and observe.

But basically it’s not quite a free-for-all, but it’s almost a free-for-all. And the problem now is there are so many satellites being launched—Earth observation is part of it, but mainly new communication satellites—that it’s getting very crowded up there and people are concerned about potential collisions, about orbital debris, about meteoroids, and there’s not good rules about that right now. And so everybody in space world is trying to figure out a process to do that. There’s a process going on at the United Nations. Like anything at the UN, it’s moving very slowly. But I think top of mind for all people in space, in the industry and government, is figuring out these rules before some catastrophe happens.


Nalis: It must be getting quite crowded up there and like, you know, is there such thing as, like, excess satellite material kind of going around or like, you know, a risk of collision or, you know, of debris, you know, falling on the planet. Like, where are we looking at?

Tim: So space is actually still quite big, is the good news.

Nalis: I’ve heard that.

Tim: And we have a lot of room up there for things. But the problem is that it is easiest to look at the Earth and broadcast stuff to the Earth when you’re close. Those orbits over the Earth are now getting more and more crowded because of this design for satellite networks that involves launching thousands and thousands of satellites. SpaceX’s Starlink communication satellite is one example of this. Amazon is building one, China is building one, and so the issue is not so much that it is too crowded. The issue is that there is not really a mechanism for traffic management. There’s no real rules for the right of way, who’s going to go where? And right now, that’s all sort of settled by emails and phone calls between people. You know, it’s not like driving on the street, you know, you have to stop at the stop sign and stay on the right and wait for the green light. There’s nothing like that in space.


And so the concern isn’t so much as crowding is that without these rules, there could be a collision. And when there’s a collision in space, you create lots and lots of little pieces of debris that now are flying and in turn could collide with someone else and create more debris. And there’s this nightmare scenario that a NASA scientist came up with called the Kessler Syndrome, where that sort of spirals out of control into this massive orbital disaster. We’re not there yet, and we’re trying not to be there. And there’s big efforts. Companies are setting up new radar stations. There’s new sort of voluntary groups coming together to monitor all of this, but it’s still becoming increasingly uncertain and will only be more so as more and more spacecraft go up.

Nalis: What is the development or even the distant possibility that you are most excited about when it comes to these kinds of observations?


The future of Earth observation

Tim: Well, I think the most important thing is how it is going to help us fight climate change. Climate change is obviously a problem on a global scale. We need to understand the global climate system in order to mitigate and slow climate change. And in fact, a lot of the early controversy about establishing whether or not climate change is actually happening took place through NASA and NOAA’s observation of the Earth in the 90s as we collected this data on the temperature of the atmosphere and its chemical composition. Scientists started making these arguments. “Hey, the Earth is warming!” And it’s predicated on that kind of measurement. And so, NASA and the ESA just launched a satellite called the Surface Water and Ocean Topography satellite that is going to give us the most accurate measure of sea level increases, ocean temperatures, you know, ice shelf melting.


All of this stuff we need to understand to fight climate change. And as well as being able to observe and understand sort of the natural processes of Earth, we’ll increasingly be able to, like with that Carbon Mapper satellite, spot methane leaks, spot contributors to climate change, measure, you know, economic activity more accurately. You know, all of the things that we’re going to have to do to move towards a net-zero world.

You know, I’m often reminded when we talk about satellites—in the 1970s, satellites were a big part of detente between the US and the Soviet Union, because when arms reduction treaties were signed, they wanted to verify with each other that, yes, you are closing down those missile silos. As, you know, we run into these coordination problems with global warming, you know, “I’m not going to cut my emissions if you’re not cutting yours.” I think the ability of countries to monitor climate, you know, with independent sources in space is going to be very helpful towards getting global agreements.


Nalis: All right, this was fascinating. Is there anything else that you think, you know, our listeners should know about, you know, space monitoring or like, you know, Earth surveillance that we might be misled about?

Tim: You know, we’ve been talking a lot about, like, military and intelligence work, but what is exciting right now about satellite observation are things like carbon accounting that we talked about, measuring climate change. Those space radar satellites we talked about are being used by archeologists to find, you know, human civilizations in the jungles of, you know, Central/Latin America that we didn’t know existed before. Satellites are being used to spot wildfires so that you can fight them more quickly and don’t turn into, like, massive megafires that contribute to climate change and health problems. These satellites are spotting toxic algae outbreaks at public beaches where, you know, children and pets could get very sick if they’re exposed to this.


You know, the contribution of satellites to map-making right now is, you know, we’re used to Google Maps, but the reason we have Google Maps is we had these satellite images in the 1960s when they were first getting space images and comparing them to maps. They were finding rivers that they didn’t know existed, huge islands in Antarctica that had never been seen before. They discovered two lakes in Ethiopia that weren’t on the map. You know, they mapped Tibet for the first time because the Chinese wouldn’t let people in. You know, it has given us so much more information about the world. So there are so many use cases for this, and we’re only just discovering them. You know, every day I hear from an NGO or a university researcher or a startup that’s trying to do something useful with satellite data.

Nalis: Thank you so much, Tim. This has been wonderful and incredibly informative. I look forward to signing up for your newsletter and never not knowing about this again.


Tim: Well, it’s been my pleasure, and I hope to come up with many more exciting things to see from space that we can write about at Quartz.

Nalis: And that’s our Obsession for today. The Quartz Obsession is a podcast hosted by me, Nalis Merelli. Katie Jane Fernelius is our producer and George Drake mixes and does sound design. Music is by Taka Yasuzawa, and Alex Suguira. Additional production support provided by multiplatform editor extraordinaire Susan Howson, research wizard Julia Malleck, and audience insight genius Ashley Webster. Shivank Taksali and Diego Lasarte are our natural born sound engineers.


Special thanks to our keen observer of Earth observation, Quartz senior reporter Tim Fernholz.

If you liked what you heard, please review this on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to your podcast. Tell your friends about us, then head to qz.com/obsession to sign up for Quartz’s Weekly Obsession email and browse hundreds of interesting backstories.


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