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High-res satellite imagery coming to the public

Jun. 11, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By MICHAEL HARDY   |   Comments
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The government has eased restrictions for one company on the sale of higher-resolution imagery. (Shown: NASA Earth Observatory view of the Morganza Spillway n Baton Rouge, Louisiana.) (Handout / Getty Images)

The government has relaxed its restrictions on the sale of high-resolution satellite imagery for DigitalGlobe, allowing the company to provide its highest-quality images, which currently are better than 50 cm. Six months after the company’s next satellite, WorldView-3, is operational in August, the government’s agreement will allow DigtalGlobe to sell imagery at 25 cm. The measurements mean that one pixel in the image must equal the stated distance or more, with smaller numbers signifying increasingly fine resolution.

To demonstrate the difference that the change in resolution makes, blogger Charlie Loyd posted an image at the current 50 cm standard and then the same image at 40 cm. Click here to see how the seemingly modest shift affects image clarity.

As a practical matter, the rule change affects only DigitalGlobe, as it is currently the only U.S. commercial satellite imagery provider. However, should rival firms emerge, the new rules will apply equally to all.

"We are very pleased and appreciative that the U.S. Department of Commerce under the leadership of Secretary Penny Pritzker, with support from the U.S. Departments of Defense and State and the Intelligence Community, has made this forward-leaning change to our nation's policy that will fuel innovation, create new high-tech jobs, and advance the nation's commanding lead in this strategically important industry," said Jeffrey R. Tarr, DigitalGlobe CEO, in a written statement. "Our customers will immediately realize the benefits of this updated regulation, as for the first time, we will be able to make our very best imagery available to the commercial market. As a result of this policy update and the forthcoming addition of WorldView-3 to our constellation, DigitalGlobe will further differentiate itself from foreign competition and expand our addressable market."

The company also plans to move its WorldView-1 satellite into a different orbit, from which it will image the Earth in the afternoon local time each day. This shift will optimize the DigitalGlobe constellation to monitor changes at various times of day.

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