British Columbia

UrtheCast cameras successfully installed on ISS, CEO says

A pair of cameras developed by a Canadian company for the International Space Station have been connected during a spacewalk by two Russian astronauts and are working as expected, the company's CEO says.

2 HD cameras by Canadian company to broadcast images, video of Earth to viewers on the ground

The International Space Station broadcast this photo just after 11 p.m. PT Sunday. Cosmonauts attempt Monday to remount cameras from B.C. firm UrtheCast on the exterior of the ISS. (NASA TV)

A pair of cameras developed by a Canadian company for the International Space Station have been connected during a spacewalk by two Russian astronauts and are working as expected, the company's CEO says.

Scott Larson, the CEO of the Vancouver-based UrtheCast Corp., says both cameras — one that shoots photos, the other video — were successfully installed and data was being received from them.

It had earlier been reported that astronauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy successfully installed one of two cameras for Earth observations, a task requiring multiple power connections outside the space station, but that the second, medium-resolution camera did not provide good data to ground controllers after Monday's hookup.

The efforts mark the company's second attempt at putting the HD cameras into space with lenses trained back on the Earth. 

UrtheCast tried to have the cameras installed on the space station late last year.

Larson said the cameras had gone through rigorous preflight testing before December's installation attempt, but space station staff decided to uninstall them after running into problems with connectors and then difficulties monitoring the power received.

"Yeah so it's in space. Ah, space, is of course ... It's always tricky," Larson told CBC News. "There's always funny stuff going on there."

Cameras for hire

This time, the spacewalk should change the way the world sees itself, Larson said.

Images from the two HD video cameras will be downloaded to ground stations on Earth and be made available just a few hours after they're captured, providing what the company calls the "world's first near-live HD video feed of Earth."

Larson says astronauts see Earth from space as small, borderless and special, and most come back with a desire to do more to take care of it.

"And so the goal is to give a little bit of what astronauts see, their viewpoint, and get that out over the web."

But there's another pressure for the rapidly expanding Vancouver tech company to get the cameras working: cash.

UrtheCast customers will be able to hire one of the two cameras to look at a particular spot on Earth for a fee.

Urthecast raised $55 million on markets, but needs to get its cameras into space to start making a return.

Google, government potential customers

“We sell imagery to people who want pictures of Earth from space. It’s a big’s growing. Everyone wants more pictures of earth from space,” Larson said in an interview with CBC’s Lang & O’Leary Exchange.

“Secondly, we’ll take it and put those pictures on the web. Everyone will come to the website once to see what Earth looks like live from space and we’ll monetize it after that." 

The still camera has a resolution of five metres, while the Ultra HD video camera has a resolution of one metre, meaning that each pixel in the imagery represents one square metre of the earth's surface.

The company say the images can be used for everything from monitoring coffee plantations in Central America to monitoring forestry practices in Indonesia.

"Companies like Google Earth would be possible customers, as well as governments wanting to track forestry, animal migration, environmental borders, things like that,” Larson said.

With files from the CBC's Chad Pawson


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