Two cameras mounted in the International Space Station (ISS) are available for hire.
In 2014, Vancouver-based company UrtheCast (pronounced “earthcast”) successfully launched the cameras into space on a Soyuz rocket, and had them installed on the Russian side of the ISS in exchange for providing the country with imagery captured over Russia. Since than, UrtheCast has begun marketing its high-quality images and videos of earth to governments, organizations and individual consumers. Although initially dedicated to conducting scientific research, the ISS has found a new niche in the global market, the New York Times reports.
It took 14 hours, two spacewalks and $17 million to successfully mount the two cameras, named “Theia” and “Iris,” onto the Russian Zvezda service module of the ISS. Theia is a multispectral camera that is capable of capturing 50 kilometers of terrain with a resolution of 5 meters per pixel. Mounted on the orbiting ISS, it could capture up to 29 million square kilometers of images in a single day. Iris is more for focusing in on specific locations, and able to capture full-color video sequences for 60 second durations with a resolution of 1 meter per pixel.
Last year, Iris captured its first Ultra HD full color video from the ISS. UrtheCast released the footage in three separate high-quality videos of Boston, London and Barcelona, with moving traffic observable in real time.
“With today’s video release, we continue to move towards being able to deliver fast, scalable and affordable Earth Observation imagery to our customers, ultimately broadening the market appeal and utility of space-based remote sensing,” explained UrtheCast President and Chief Operating Officer Wade Larson.
UrtheCast has also teamed with with NASA, which operates its’ own real-time camera, the High Definition Earth Viewing experiment (HDEV) in order to augment their own footage and create a more thorough experience for the viewer.
“NASA’s online HDEV channel has already garnered over 46 million views in under a year, so this is no doubt an exciting opportunity for everyone involved,” UrtheCast CEO and Co-Founder Scott Larson said. “With this resource, we’ll tap into a view of the world that is not only breathtaking, but incredibly inspiring.”
In pushing for new market ventures, UrtheCast has offered its capabilities in the field of international security. According to The Economic Times, the company recently made overtures to the European Union’s border agency, Frontex, to use their ISS cameras in order to monitor the continent’s borders. In an email to Frontex, UrtheCast claimed that Iris and Theia could provide “an unprecedented capability for an integrated persistent space surveillance,” as well as an, “extraction of situation awareness at certain regions, facilities or events” without intruding on a country’s airspace with invasive planes or drones.
Frontex rejected the proposal, although this raises an important issue. With the ability to capture high-quality images from space like never before and distribute them for free online, ensuring privacy could be problematic. For example, Google Earth’s street view camera blurs the faces of people taken in their photographs to deal with this.
Nevertheless, John Sheldon, a senior fellow with the University of Toronto’s Canada Centre for Global Security Studies, says privacy and security concerns are limited by the resolution of UrtheCast cameras. He says other world powers — and some companies — already have satellites with more powerful video cameras than UrtheCast, and adds that at the moment, “drones offer perhaps more a more immediate threat to your personal privacy.”
With limited success in the Frontex venture, UrtheCast is now focusing on new projects, with plans drawn up to soon construct a 16-satellite constellation to be launched into low-orbit space in 2019, as soon as sufficient financial backing is in place. To this end UrtheCast, has recently acquired the Spanish company Deimos Imaging and their two operational orbital satellites. Meanwhile, plans for upgraded second generation ISS cameras have been put on hold.
“We’ve always viewed ourselves as a company that is a space station company, using that unique platform in space to do interesting and different things in Earth observation,” Larson explained in an interview with Space News. “But I think for quite a while now we haven’t defined ourselves as only that. We’ve known that we want to be much more than that.”
To learn more about UrtheCast and to view their free live stream of the planet, visit their website.