World’s Highest-Res, Color Satellite Image Showcases New Spacecraft’s Quality


Image courtesy GeoEye, Inc.

Commercial satellite imagery of the Earth will be a lot sharper thanks to GeoEye-1, a spacecraft that can make images of objects on the ground as small as 16 inches (41 centimeters) — from more than 400 miles (640 kilometers) away.

The satellite has been undergoing calibration and check-out since it was launched last month. This week, while moving north to south in a 423-mile-high (681-kilometer) orbit over the eastern seaboard of the U.S. at a speed of 17,000 miles per hour (27,000 kilometers per hour), GeoEye started working.

The image (above) “captures what is in fact the very first location the satellite saw when we opened the camera door and started imaging,” said Brad Peterson, GeoEye’s vice president of operations. “We expect the quality of the imagery to be even better as we continue the calibration activity.”

The image shows Kutztown University, Pennsylvania. It was produced by fusing the satellite’s panchromatic (black-and-white) and multispectral (color) data to produce a high-quality, true-color 20-inch (50-centimeter) resolution image.

The satellite’s highest resolution imagery (16-inch) will not be available commercially. Those images are reserved for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which paid a major share of the cost of the satellite.

Google is the second largest shareholder in the venture, so it gets exclusive online mapping use of the 20-inch-resolution imagery, which it plans to use to improve the quality of Google Maps and Google Earth.

Images for other commercial purposes (at the lower 20-inch res, naturally) can be purchased directly from GeoEye, Inc.

A second satellite, GeoEye-2, slated to launch in 2011 or 2012, will have a resolution of 10 inches (25 centimeters), Wired reports on its Web site. However, Wired continues, Google’s satellite imagery will not likely get more detailed because of the U.S.-government regulation that restricts commercial imagery to a resolution no higher than 50 centimeters.

The very finest detail of imagery available from space is reserved for the spy agencies.


GeoEye-1 image courtesy GeoEye

More from National Geographic News:

Terrorist Use of Google Earth Raises Security Fears

Google Earth, Satellite Maps Boost Armchair Archaeology

Photos, Video Expose Darfur Atrocities in Google Earth

More From Elsewhere on the Web:

Google’s Super Satellite Captures First Image (Wired)

GeoEye satellite to be used by Google releases first image (Computer World)

GeoEye-1 Imagery Satellite is in Orbit (Defense Update)

Changing Planet

Meet the Author
More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn