Space cameras from B.C. firm UrtheCast blast off

A B.C. firm launched two HD cameras into space today that will provide internet users with near-live views of Earth detailed enough for them to spot cars, boats and groups of people.

Two HD cameras designed to stream detailed views of Earth from the International Space Station blasted off into space today.

One still camera and one video camera from Vancouver-based UrtheCast launched at 3:52 p.m. ET from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazahkstan on an unmanned Russian Progress spacecraft aboard a Soyuz rocket. 

The video camera will allow people to see things as small as cars, boats and small groups of people, although its one-metre resolution won't allow you to make out an individual person. Many of its images will be available free online, just a few hours after they were captured, providing what the company calls the "world's first near-live HD video feed of Earth."

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 fixed, still camera will take a continuous video panorama of Earth 50 kilometres wide as the space station orbits Earth 16 times each day.

The cameras will be able to view a large band of the Earth between the latitudes of 51 degrees north (which passes through Calgary) and 51 degrees south, a little bit north of the southern tip of Chile and Argentina.

The video camera is pointable, and customers will be able to use it to look at a particular spot on Earth for a fee. 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.

Chris Carter, director of wealth management for ScotiaMcLeod and CBC Radio's Vancouver business columnist told the Early Edition that UrtheCast's business model allows it to avoid the most enormous cost and the biggest hurdle faced by its competitors – getting cameras into space. UrtheCast's cameras are being transported by Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, for free in exchange for free access to images that it might otherwise have to pay for.

"That will give them some pricing power when it comes to pricing these images for their commercial customers," Carter added.

As of Sept. 30, the company, which trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange, had annual purchase commitments worth $21 million, it said in a news release earlier this month.

"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," it added.


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