Satellite Images May Soon Show Objects Smaller Than 50cm In Size
June 16, 2014

Satellite Images May Soon Show Objects Smaller Than 50cm In Size

Peter Suciu for - Your Universe Online

The maps on Google and Bing might soon show just a bit more detail. Last week the United States government lifted restrictions that had limited the use of images where features smaller than 50cm were not visible – but now imaging firm DigitalGlobe said it could sell images that show features as small as 31cm.

The US government approved the company's longstanding request to sell the higher-resolution images, and that move could unleash as much as $400 million in market opportunities for the company. The updated approvals will further permit Longmont, Colorado-based DigitalGlobe to sell imagery to all its customers at up to 0.25m panchromatic and 1.0m multispectral ground sample distance (GSD) beginning six months after its next satellite WorldView-3 is operational. That satellite is scheduled to launch in mid-August from Vandenberg Air Force base.

"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, via a 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."

DigitalGlobe sells its satellite images to governments and private companies including Google Inc., which uses the images for its maps. The same imagery is also sold to Nokia and Microsoft for their respective maps. DigitalGlobe isn't limited to just being a mapping service, as the company also offers satellite monitoring for mining and oil companies and provides detailed analysis of the images.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the market for "so-called geospatial information that combines imagery and other data" is reportedly estimated to be worth around $10 billion a year.

"As our constellation has grown, we have pioneered new capabilities for satellite imaging in every successive generation to deliver new and unique value to our customers in the growing and dynamic geospatial market. The combination of additional spectral bands, higher resolution products, morning and afternoon collection times, and increased collection capacity all enable DigitalGlobe to provide its customers with dramatically more information in every image collected," added Walter Scott, DigitalGlobe's founder and Chief Technology Officer.

Satellite imagery remains a growing business and last week Google announced that it would acquire Skybox Imaging, a satellite imaging and analytics startup, for $500 million. Skybox utilizes its satellites to collect a range of images and videos from around the world, and this acquisition could provide Google with images for the tech giant’s online mapping service.

The acquisition of Skybox by Google should not be seen as bad news for DigitalGlobe, however. The Street reported on Friday that DigitalGlobe still gets 80 percent of its revenue from government agencies and the company had forecast revenue growth of between three and eight percent from 2013. However, following the news of Google's acquisition of Skybox, DigitalGlobe's shares did drop by four percent.

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