We built the platform that powers Astro Digital, a small satellite startup based in the NASA Ames research center in Silicon Valley. The platform reinvents the way that users interact with satellite imagery.

The small satellite industry is an exciting field and many new startups have started emerging. To distinguish itself from the competition, Astro Digital partnered with Development Seed, in 2015, to focus on establishing a first-rate technology platform. Since that time, we built out their core web platform including:

  • a powerful cloud-based processing pipeline that can elegantly scale to process and publish thousands of images
  • a robust API that puts 600 terabytes of imagery and Astro Digital’s entire processing pipeline into the hands of its business partners
  • a highly usable web interface that allows customers to design a custom workflow to monitor their farm, community, or development project

To build Astro Digital’s platform from the ground up, we wanted to quickly gain insight into what users wanted and needed. To do this, we built quickly and iterated often, using an agile approach. We leveraged some of our previous work on open-source tools, Libra, landsat-util and landsat-api, and were able to launch the first version of the product in just three months.

Moving processing to the cloud

Astro Digital’s top priority was to offer on-demand satellite imagery processing. Using landsat-util, we had the tools to get us there. But because it was built to run single requests, it wasn’t scalable enough for our on-demand processing pipeline. To account for this, we rewrote the library from the ground up, optimizing for performance, easy installation, and modular architecture. With a little extra glue from Docker containers and services like AWS ECS, Iron.io and Kubernetes, Astro Digital was able to handle processing many images at once and complete any on-demand request in a few minutes.

Process satellite imagery in minutes with one API call

Building a powerful and developer friendly API

To make working with satellite imagery as painless as possible, we focused on simplicity when building the API. While the underlying system is quite complex, a user needs only to provide a small amount of information in order to get the results they’re after, e.g. location and date. Along with that, we launched interactive documentation to make the API even more simple and straightforward for other developers to work with.

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Astro Digital API documentation

Enhancing the browsing experience

To further distinguish Astro Digital from it’s competition we knew that producing a highly usable web interface would be key. We initially partnered with them to create a simple platform that searched, sorted and downloaded satellite imagery quickly and easily. Libra, which is now open source, formed the foundation of the Astro Digital web interface. After it’s release we collected several months of analytics to inform our next iteration, focusing on:

  • lighting-fast imagery browsing
  • an intuitive interface that compels users to explore the Astro Digital offerings
  • a constantly updating view on the progress of all the user’s actions
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The Astro Digital imagery browser
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See an overview of all your tasks in Mission Control

We continue working with the Astro Digital team, using research and analytics to inform new features from alerts and notifications to more responsive imagery browsing, and to continue improving the product. Follow us as we continue to launch new features and improvements to the ever expanding Astro Digital platform.

We're a team of engineers and designers working on big projects. We believe in open source and in building for lasting impact.

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