|Google Earth has given us a new way of looking at our cities and|
neighborhoods - from space.
Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colorado is building WorldView-3 for commercial satellite operator DigitalGlobe. It is the latest in a series of spacecraft designed to beam back high-resolution pictures of our planet, images that most of us will eventually see on Google Maps or Google Earth.
This month Google Maps celebrates its ninth anniversary, and in June so does the company’s 3-D mapping app, Google Earth. Together they have changed the way we view the world. “Everybody I’m sure has looked up their house, their downtown, their business on Google Earth, and seen images from these satellites,” says Jeff Dierks, Program Manager at Ball. “It gives me a lot of pride when I see a satellite image on a news program with the DigitalGlobe logo on them.”
|This clean room is where satellites such as Worldview-3 and|
Worldview-2 (pictured) are built (Ball Aerospace).
The satellite will be able to point to particular areas of interest and is capable of seeing objects just 25cm (10 inches) across. However, DigitalGlobe can only sell these highest-resolution images to customers in the US government. For everyone else, the company is only licensed to release images with a resolution of 50cm (20 inches). The latest US spy satellites, in comparison, are reported to be able to pick out objects less than 10cm (4 inches) across. But, for obvious reasons, the US military does not make those images available for free on Google.
|DigitalGlobe's satellites have captured a wealth of views, such|
as this of Paris' Versailles Palace (DigitalGlobe)
Images from WorldView-3 will be sold to thousands of businesses for everything from urban planning to forest monitoring, oil exploration to map making. But most of us will probably use them to look at our house from space. Unfortunately, unless you live in a major city, then you are unlikely to benefit in the short term from the improved images captured by this new satellite.
“Large metropolitan areas get imaged most often,” Dierks concedes. “Once a year they pick cities like Denver or London and re-scan them and they get it into their database – how often Google buys those images and updates its maps, is up to them.”
Google is also only likely to purchase images captured on a cloud-free day. For some of us, this makes the odds of getting a new space picture of our house increasingly thin. “People ask ‘why can’t I see my new shed’, and I tell them to check back in a year or so,” Dierks says. In fact there is a good chance that, within the next year, if you look at a satellite picture of a major city it will include images captured by WorldView-3.
|Ball Aerospace now has competition, Urthecast built new cameras|
recently fitted to the International Space Station (NASA).
Back in the clean room at Ball Aerospace in Colorado, Dierks is also looking forward to seeing his latest satellite in orbit. “If you talk to most of us here we've been space geeks for all of our lives,” he says. “I keep track of the satellite tracking programs on the computer at home and if it’s coming by, I’ll step out into the backyard and see the satellite I've built flying over. And that’s pretty neat.”