Ordering commercial imagery: tasking and the archive

The ability to order commercial imagery is a key Lens feature. In this post, learn the difference between tasking a satellite or choosing images from the archive.

Jan 30, 2024
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Starting in Lens is exciting stuff – you’ve added the place(s) you’d like to monitor, selected some data and imagery from the Lens Library, and voila, you’re off in space! Nice.

But you might be thinking okay – what if I want…more? More imagery, perhaps a more specific time range, perhaps more reliability?

Lens allows you to order (more) imagery for your sites so that you can do the workTM. As soon as you choose to do so, you’ll be faced with the following decision: to order imagery through the archive, or to task. But what’s the difference?

In this very short essay, we will discuss the differences between the two. Let’s dive in. 

Ordering [commercial] imagery: tasking and the archive

An example of what commercial imagery looks like. In this case via our partner and vendor, Planet.

Lens comes packed with public data and imagery sources, like NAIP imagery from USDA, which is aerial imagery captured across most of the US every few years. Public imagery is great because it’s:

  1. Consistent
  2. Free
  3. Automatically loads into your Lens account for all the places you’re interested in.

But sometimes there are trade-offs around resolution or frequency, so that’s why we built Lens to have a diversity of sources, from the public, to the commercial. That way you and your organization can be flexible and tap into all of these different sources, when one might be better than another in certain situations. That’s where commercial sources come in and, as such, tasking and the archive.

Lens comes packed with access to commercial data and imagery sources. This means that, depending on the vendor, as a Lens customer you are able to browse through a vendor’s archive – what imagery they have available already – or even task (i.e. literally tell) a satellite to take some imagery for you at a specific time and date. 

Why commercial? Commercial imagery is as top-of-the-line imagery as you can get.

This is huge and important, so let’s break this down. When you’re ready to order commercial imagery, there are two options:

  1. You can choose imagery that already exists. That’s to say, pick an image from an existing vendor’s archive.


  1. You can choose to task a satellite, in the future, and tell it where and when to get some new imagery for you. In other words, you can tell a satellite, hey, we need this image during this time period for this area.

That’s basically the difference. Basically. 

Here are the details. First up, the archive.

Ordering imagery: the archive

The archive sounds cool, but is it right for your organization? As we’ve noted above, the archive contains past imagery that a vendor has already been capturing. This means new imagery will continue to enter the archive as time passes but it might not be at the exact, precise time for your needs. That’s where tasking would come in. But more on that later. 

Lens works with vendors who capture imagery regularly and at different cadences, so this is worth factoring into any decision of whether to search through the archive or to task.

Important high-level considerations when it comes to ordering imagery from the archive:

  • Discounted pricing structure: by ordering an image that already exists, it'll be discounted significantly for you to use. In Lens, archive images cost just 4–6¢/acre.
  • There is no minimum: as in, minimum area that you have to order all at once (unlike tasking).
  • Easy to browse, easy to preview: Lens lets you preview the imagery before you order it. A sweet and easy set-up.
  • No advance notice of when new imagery will be produced (small con) but…
  • New imagery is available within 24 hours after initial capture (speedy).

The biggest tradeoff between using the archive and tasking a satellite is reliability of time/date, and cost. Here are a few other key factors:

Factors in your decision-making

At the end of the day, your organization will be influenced by things like:

  • Imagery needs: what are you trying to figure out with your imagery?
  • Flexibility in budget: how much can ya spend?
  • Flexibility in staff time: will tasking a satellite save time and money from your staff’s busy schedules?
  • And finally, reporting deadlines: there might be times that you need the latest and most specific imagery, and tasking is key.

Ordering from the archive is always an option. But if you’re thinking that you might need a little more specificity, then tasking might be the way to go, whether it’s a one time thing, or your go-to.

Ordering imagery: tasking

The second option is to task a satellite. Kinda like phone-a-friend, if your friend were a photographer orbiting the planet. In space.

Tasking is simple: it provides a guarantee that your property will receive imagery within a specific time frame. In short, it’s a custom order of imagery. 

Each tasking vendor we work with has their own rules around minimum areas and other specifications, but typically you need to have a decently-sized area, or a bunch of sites clustered together, to make tasking cost effective.

There are a few considerations to tasking, all of which are here in this support doc, but here are are a key few ones:

  • Different vendors, different minimums: each vendor (source) has different minimum requirements. Typically, a minimum order amount for tasking starts at around $600. Learn more here.
  • Timeframe: important when you know you’ll need imagery for a certain time period and date. Pro tip: the earlier the notice for tasking a satellite, the more likely you will be able to get cloud-free imagery for when you need. 
  • Spatial resolution: this refers to the resolution of the imagery. Depending on the vendor, different resolutions exist, and as such different pricing.
  • Recurring captures: that’s right, you can task a satellite on a recurring basis, set to your needs.
  • Delivery to you and your team: the imagery will appear in your Lens account when ready, and you will also receive the geotiff for download of your task!
  • Extra extra: you will also receive near-infrared bands in case you need imagery to work outside of Lens, too.

Now you might be thinking, it’d be nice to preview tasking, since it’s so pricey... And wait for it…

You can!

The Tasking Estimator Tool

Importantly, we’ve made a tool, y’all, and it’s called the Tasking Estimator Tool, available Lens Plus and Enterprise accounts. This makes it easy to optimize all of your options for tasking, from choosing vendors, selecting your properties, to estimating the price of it all. And, if you still have questions, we’ve got you. Literally: our customer success team is ready to help with any questions.

Tasking workflow

Step 1: select the properties you'd like to order images for via tasking.
Step 2: Preview the estimate price alongside a preview of your properties on the right. If all looks good, hit Next and order. Questions? Ask our customer success team. Easy!


When it comes to remote monitoring, choosing and ordering imagery is a key ingredient in the process. Whether you choose to use archive data one day and tasking for another, we make it easy to get your hands on all the data you need right in Lens. 

And, if you’ve still got questions, we’re always around.

Sign up for Lens today, or to learn more, book a demo with our team or get in touch!

Happy monitoring, folks!