Two High-Definition cameras designed to stream detailed views of Earth from the International Space Station blasted off into space yesterday. The cameras are the work of UrtheCast, a Vancouver-based company that distributes operational software for publicly accessibly HD cameras and broadcasts. Once installed, they will provide a view of Earth that is usually reserved for astronauts.
The cameras – one still and one video camera – launched at 3:52 p.m. ET from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazahkstan on an unmanned Russian Progress spacecraft aboard a Soyuz rocket. The two cameras will be attached to a platform on the underside of the space station that was brought up by a previous Progress flight in July and installed by Russian cosmonauts during a spacewalk.
The cameras will be able to view a large band of the Earth between the latitudes of 51 degrees north and 51 degrees south, covering everything from the Canadian Prairies and the southern tip of Chile and Argentina. What’s more, their resolution will be high enough that people will be able to see things as small as cars, boats, their own homes, and even small groups of people.
The company stressed though that individual people would not be discernible as the resolution is simply not high enough to make out facial features. The fixed, still camera will take a continuous video panorama of Earth 50 kilometres wide as the space station orbits Earth 16 times each day. Meanwhile, the other camera will be pointable and able to be directed at specific points on the globe.
And while many of the images they take will be available free online just a few hours after they were captured, customers will also have access to specific footage captured by the second, pointed camera. So for a small fee, people will be able to take part in what the company likes to call the “world’s first near-live HD video feed of Earth.”
The company expects customers to include governments, non-governmental organizations and corporations that would like particular types of live and archival images for purposes such as monitoring the environment. As Chris Carter, director of wealth management for ScotiaMcLeod and CBC Radio’s Vancouver business columnist, claims that this expectation is valid since UrtheCast’s business model allows it avoid a major hurdle.
Basically, the greatest impediment to providing space-based footage of the Earth is the astronomical (no pun!) cost of getting cameras into space. UrtheCast has gotten around this hurdle by partnering with Roscosmos, the Russian Space Agency, who transported their cameras in exchange for free access to images that it might otherwise have to pay for.
According to a statement made by the company earlier this month, as of Sept. 30, the company – which trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange – had annual purchase commitments worth $21 million:
Although these purchase commitments cannot be considered binding prior to the cameras being installed on the ISS, UrtheCast has already begun the process of converting these purchase commitments into binding commercial agreements.
The democratic space age is looming, people. Between regular updates on social media and webcasts from NASA rovers and space satellites, to live feeds from publicly-accessible cameras, we are entering an age where exploration and research are accessible like never before. Add to this the dream of telexploration, and we could be looking at a future where astronauts do NOT get to have all the fun!