Had Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared just a few weeks later, we may have been able to find it in a matter of hours. A company called Planet Labs is in the process of activating a squadron of tiny satellites that they released from the International Space Station last month. These compact satellites will orbit Earth, snapping images of nearly every inch of our planet. As Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield pointed out, they may have filled the blind spots of the satellites that failed to keep up with the plane after it lost contact.
"Just tracking one, thin aluminum tube in a place that isn’t heavily radar covered [is] really hard — virtually impossible," Hadfield, an experienced pilot himself, said shortly after his talk at a TED conference.
Planet Labs, which was founded in 2010 by three former NASA physicists, could have been the answer because their satellites will cover areas that are sometimes overlooked with current satellites — like, say the Indian Ocean — which tend to focus on specific tasks or zones with more activity.
The compact satellites — called "Doves" — will work together to take overlapping images and beam them back to Earth immediately, giving us a complete view of our planet in real time. They will live in low orbit, and their main purpose will be measuring the planet's environmental changes, though their mountains of data could be applied in many other instances, like finding a missing plane perhaps.
Although the company launched 28 of these satellites in February, they aren't yet active. Plus, total coverage won't be possible until all 100 satellites are deployed, and the company just secured another round of funding this week to make that happen within 12 months. It will eventually be the largest satellite constellation in history, providing paying clients with information about the planet.