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World’s Highest-Res, Color Satellite Image Showcases New Spacecraft’s Quality


Image courtesy GeoEye, Inc.

Commercial satellite imagery of the Earth will be a lot sharper thanks to GeoEye-1, a spacecraft that can make images of objects on the ground as small as 16 inches (41 centimeters) — from more than 400 miles (640 kilometers) away.

The satellite has been undergoing calibration and check-out since it was launched last month. This week, while moving north to south in a 423-mile-high (681-kilometer) orbit over the eastern seaboard of the U.S. at a speed of 17,000 miles per hour (27,000 kilometers per hour), GeoEye started working.

The image (above) “captures what is in fact the very first location the satellite saw when we opened the camera door and started imaging,” said Brad Peterson, GeoEye’s vice president of operations. “We expect the quality of the imagery to be even better as we continue the calibration activity.”

The image shows Kutztown University, Pennsylvania. It was produced by fusing the satellite’s panchromatic (black-and-white) and multispectral (color) data to produce a high-quality, true-color 20-inch (50-centimeter) resolution image.

The satellite’s highest resolution imagery (16-inch) will not be available commercially. Those images are reserved for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which paid a major share of the cost of the satellite.

Google is the second largest shareholder in the venture, so it gets exclusive online mapping use of the 20-inch-resolution imagery, which it plans to use to improve the quality of Google Maps and Google Earth.

Images for other commercial purposes (at the lower 20-inch res, naturally) can be purchased directly from GeoEye, Inc.

A second satellite, GeoEye-2, slated to launch in 2011 or 2012, will have a resolution of 10 inches (25 centimeters), Wired reports on its Web site. However, Wired continues, Google’s satellite imagery will not likely get more detailed because of the U.S.-government regulation that restricts commercial imagery to a resolution no higher than 50 centimeters.

The very finest detail of imagery available from space is reserved for the spy agencies.


GeoEye-1 image courtesy GeoEye

More from National Geographic News:

Terrorist Use of Google Earth Raises Security Fears

Google Earth, Satellite Maps Boost Armchair Archaeology

Photos, Video Expose Darfur Atrocities in Google Earth

More From Elsewhere on the Web:

Google’s Super Satellite Captures First Image (Wired)

GeoEye satellite to be used by Google releases first image (Computer World)

GeoEye-1 Imagery Satellite is in Orbit (Defense Update)


  1. Adda W.
    July 28, 2009, 8:34 pm

    My friend is working on a Houston satellite – http://www.houston-satellite.com – project similar to this and was telling me about how it all works. It’s really impressive, and the cameras the satellites use are actually a lot smaller to what you would expect.

  2. World Amazing News
    May 4, 2009, 11:32 pm

    This is really nice information. I like your photos its really nice one. I was looking for quality inspection & got your post, Thanks for sharing it.