Satellite imaging pioneers: A virtual roadmap of the world in four years
November 18, 1999
THORNTON, Colorado (CNN) -- An explorer looking for remote natural treasure, a farmer checking his crops over a wide range, a planner eyeing urban sprawl or John Doe simply enjoying a space image of his city on the wall -- there is a great advantage in the big picture from a bird's-eye view.
This is particularly true if the "bird" is a satellite soaring high above the earth at 17,000 miles per hour in a sun-synchronous orbit -- moving along with the sun so the earth below is always in sunlight. It edges its way along the lighted part of the globe 14 times a day until it completes it's route.
This may include San Diego, California from 422 miles in space or around the world at Mao's tomb in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.
Along the way, the imaging satellite can zoom in on items as small as a square meter across, and in the process piece together an overall picture of vast areas - even the entire world.
This world picture is the mission of the Ikonos satellite, launched this fall by a Colorado firm, Space Imaging. The company is pioneering the technology of all-encompassing satellite imaging for civilian uses. Space Imaging hopes to photograph the Earth's entire landmass over the next four years. While the firm is first, a handful of other countries may soon be taking pictures from above.
Earthwatch in Longmont, Colorado plans to launch its own imaging satellite early next year, and a Virginia company is working on the technology.
"We're just barely beginning to see what we're going to have in terms of an industry based off this kind of imagery," says Elliot Pulham of the United Space Foundation.
Space Imaging will sell selected images of cities around the world to the public for $10 each. But the primary goal is selling images from virtually anywhere on earth to governments and businesses, within limits.
"We can't export our product to known terrorists or terrorist countries," says Space Imaging CEO John Copple. Ikonos is not intended to be a spy satellite, he says. It can't show individual people the way photographs from planes or even store security cameras can.
"There are other ways to monitor people," Copple notes. "Our satellite is only good for locking at things once a day, so from a privacy standpoint, I don't think we're intruding on anyone."
What his firm is seeking to create, says Copple, is a virtual roadmap of the world.
National Correspondent Tony Clark contributed to this report.
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