Space station's views of Earth to be streamed by B.C. firm

Want to see what your home looks like from the International Space Station on any given day? A Vancouver-based company will soon be giving the public the opportunity to get that view.

Urthecast's cameras blast off on Nov. 20

Space cameras

8 years ago
Vancouver company is launching cameras into space, mounting them on the ISS and pointing them toward earth 2:24

Want to see what your home looks like from the International Space Station on any given day? A Vancouver-based company will soon be giving the public the opportunity to get that view.

"We can give that image of Earth that astronauts have right now and stream it over the web," said Scott Larson, CEO of Urthecast in an interview with CBC's Curt Petrovich from the company's sprawling office in the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Urthecast launched a platform to the space station Sunday aboard the unmanned Russian Progress M-20M spacecraft as part of a delivery of 2.4 tonnes of supplies, including food, water, fuel and scientific equipment.

The platform will be attached to the underside of the space station.

Two HD video cameras that will allow people to see things on Earth as small as one metre wide will be launched aboard a different Progress flight on Nov. 20 and attached to the platform:

  • One is a fixed camera that will take a continuous video panorama of Earth 50 kilometres wide as the space station orbits Earth.
  • The other will be a pointable camera that customers will be able to use to look at a particular spot on Earth for a fee that hasn't been worked out yet.

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

Punch in your address online

Much of the imagery will be available free to the public. Anyone will be able to punch in their address on the website and find out when the fixed camera will next be passing overhead. NASA already provides a service that allows people to find out when they can view the space station from their location.

As for the pointable camera, if no one is paying to have it point at something in particular, Larson said the company will let the internet tell it what to look at.

"If there's a million tweets coming out of a particular area, it's important, and we'll capture that area."

Urthecast plans to make money by selling the video to corporations, governments and non-governmental organizations such as the United Nations in a form designed to meet specific needs, such as monitoring the environment, humanitarian relief or agricultural land.

Clients will be able to request custom mosaics and image processing to remove distortions or detect certain types of changes over time. They will also be able to buy archival images and video.

The company's customers can't include the military due to the fact that it is on the International Space Station, which as a civilian space station can only be used for "peaceful purposes" under international law. Canadian law also requires the company to shut off the cameras as they pass over sensitive targets if requested to do so by the federal government.

Nevertheless, at least some investors are confident the company will make money. It has raised $46 million since it went public last month.

The company is currently building the systems that control the cameras at its Vancouver headquarters. The cameras themselves are being built in the U.K.