The technology to transmit near real time high-definition imagery from orbit has been around for many years, but for the most part it is a technology that only spy organizations across the world have capitalized on, whether it’s satellite or drone aerial surveillance. However, now a company named UrtheCast out of Vancouver will provide near real time high-definition footage of the Earth from the International Space Station.
The company will be providing the streaming imagery to the public via medium-resolution cameras at all times, and high-resolution cameras on demand in order to focus on specific targets like major world events.
The company told the media that the web platform will allow users to search for videos of certain locations and even review recorded video streams to explore real time video for specific locations. It is currently unclear what the pricing structure will be for access to the company’s satellite video stream.
Will a Live Satellite View Work?
How closely will you be able to track events on the ground? Well, according to a statement made to CBS News by Dan Lopez, UrtheCast’s Director of Technology, users will be able to use the cameras like a telescope pointed toward Earth.
“[The cameras]…function almost like a telescope but give us imagery that works like an HD-camera.”
What’s most impressive about this technology is that it is in direct competition with the Internet giant Google and its product Google Earth, which offers periodically updated imagery of the Earth.
Viewing Top Secret Locations
It is also uncertain how UrtheCast will treat those locations that Google has typically edited out of its Earth imagery.
Users of Google Earth and Google Maps (satellite view) have noticed that imagery from the third-party sources which provide Google satellite imagery resorted to blurring some of those images if the location involves top secret or sensitive locations.
The locations blurred by Google Earth include Keowee Dam in South Carolina, strange unknown blurred out locations in Russia (in Siberia), military installations like the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, and various airports and other locations across the world.
Google receives its imagery from a number of third party partners, but UrtheCast images come directly from the company’s own cameras, so such a geographic limitation may not exist in this case. This is further confirmed by a comment made by Lopez in the CBS interview.
Having a platform on the ISS gives us a really neutral place to let the world observe itself without having a single governmental organization control that data.
Will Video be Free From Censorship?
Will the video stream from UrtheCast be allowed to transmit if various countries around the world don’t want the general public to see certain sensitive locations? This will be an important issue to watch as the UrtheCast web platform goes live and people get a glimpse into what the company’s cameras have to offer.
Some of the recommended uses of its live stream listed at the UrtheCast website include:
–> Virtually traveling to favorite locations.
–> Planning events around an ISS pass-over (so people can watch via UrtheCast).
–> Watch how the Earth changes day to day and year to year.
–> Sharing and commenting on your own Earth footage.
–> Following “world-changing events and locations”.
According to the company website, the cameras will cover 51 degrees to -51 degrees latitude, traversing “from England, to Chile, and everywhere in between”, where “90% of the world’s population lives”. The cameras will pass over this strip of Earth 16 times a day, providing plenty of opportunity to explore the earth via near real-time feed.
As far as pricing and tasking, one clue comes from the fact that the company will be offering premium accounts for “priority camera tasking and exclusive rights to video and imagery”.
This introduces the possibility that some companies or governments might “buy out” video and imagery from a certain location. If that video is exclusive, it is conceivable that no one else will have the ability to see or use that video. This is one drawback of such a private system, and one method that could be used to cover-up sensitive locations.