WASHINGTON, July 1 (UPI) — Satellite images of Earth, once the domain of spy satellites, are entering the commercial arena in a “new kind of space race,” U.S. observers say.
Two U.S. companies, DigitalGlobe in Colorado and GeoEye in Virginia, are feeding an ever-growing appetite for views of what’s happening around the world, USA Today reported Thursday.
“It is a new kind of space race,” says DigitalGlobe CEO Jill Smith. “We are looking at ways to make space images as ubiquitous as possible.”
“We are hiring like crazy,” says GeoEye CEO Matthew O’Connell. “This is a great time to be in the space-imaging business.”
The companies are finding eager customers in government planners and private developers for the images provided by their satellites, direct descendants of U.S. spy satellites.
Essentially telescopes in orbit, the satellites orbit from pole to pole every hour and a half, passing over every point on the Earth every three days, capturing images requested by customers.
DigitalGlobe’s WorldView-2 orbits 480 miles up and provides images with a resolution no smaller than a half-meter (about 19.5 inches), a legal limit imposed by the federal government. At that resolution, the company says, a lawn chair would be visible from 480 miles up.
From views of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and volcanoes to Google Earth and Google Maps, space images now define our era, says space historian Margaret Weitekamp of the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum in Washington.
“We have expectations of connection and information that didn’t exist a decade ago because of this,” Weitekamp says.
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