They only weigh five pounds, but provide precise pictures of the Earth: dozens of small satellites come into orbit By Rainer Kurlemann
These days, the astronauts begin on the International Space Station with a special labor. Set of 28 small satellites: the technical tools for the possible successor of Google Earth
The micro-satellites are reduced to a minimum. You can not do much more than take pictures and send the data. An HD camera with solar cells and radio antenna.
Nevertheless, they have the potential to replace Google Earth. For the Space cameras to deliver photos regularly from the end of this year. From some regions it is then repeatedly enter new aerial images daily, the other will be updated at least once a week. The images on Google Earth, however, are often several years old and are rarely replaced.
The initiator of this satellite swarm is a private company. Planet Labs in San Francisco, founded four years ago by three techies who formerly worked at the U.S. space agency Nasa
The engineers have taken to mobile and cell phone technology to model all components and miniaturized. Your micro-satellites remember with its cylindrical shape to roles in which posters will be transported, and only weigh five pounds. This reduces the cost of transportation into space. Conventional observation satellites weigh about two tons.
In the first generation, the resolution of the cameras is expected to reach about three meters per pixel. Exact technical details does not provide the start-up company, also about the price of Space Cameras silent one out.
Google has for Europe and many states in the U.S. on images with more detail because the company buys photos that are taken with cameras on airplanes. However, for other regions of the world provide the micro-satellites better quality. With this resolution, tree crowns could include illegal fishing boats to locate or determine the distribution of cars, says Will Marshall, CEO of Planet Lab, but people could not be detected.
The vision of the company sounds noble: The real-time images of Earth will “enable people to better understand the planet” and “spur governments to action”
The application examples on the website of the company have humanitarian and ecological background: Good resolution aerial images in real-time could improve the management of natural disasters or fires, document the deforestation or information for regional transport projects provide. “The data will help the industry and the authorities to make better decisions,” says Will Marshall, “there are thousands of applications.” The satellite swarm reached the International Space Station on 9 January with the Antares rocket, Orbital Science Corp.. -. One of two private companies that have now taken over the supply of the ISS
How does the finance space, is the fact that the crew of the ISS now also carries out private commissions. They will release the micro-satellite in February with the robot arm through the pressure hatch in Japanese ISS module Kibo, which was once designed for it to recover scientific experiments from space or to be attached to the platform.
The orbit of the 28 cameras in about 400 kilometers altitude corresponds to the orbit of the ISS. They are therefore not able to photograph the entire Earth, but already an essential part. For the polar region Planet Labs can shoot into space in November, two additional satellites.
Even on the ISS of the competition for the best photos from space has already arrived. Last week, the Russian crew members assembled at a outdoor use video cameras of Canadian startups UrtheCast that will deliver 150 high resolution video clips of 90 seconds each from August 2014 daily. The first attempt with the devices failed in December, however, due to technical problems.
The biggest competitor of Planet Labs depends in implementing its plans back yet. It is the start-up company Skybox Imaging, with a resolution of one meter per pixel to deliver even sharper images whose 100-pound satellite.
But not until 2015, Californians launch a significant number of photographed satellite into space – and the entire fleet with 24 devices for real-time images of Earth will probably not before 2017 ready. At least after that a discussion will probably develop, whether behind the micro-satellites are not yet hides an invasion of privacy. Critics have given the permanent photographed Space Cameras another name: Paparazzi Satellite
Nicholas Forgó, computer science professor at the Institute of Law of the University of Hannover, rated the pictures of the satellites in principle, even as intense invasion of privacy than the controversial pictures of Google Street View because they are not photographed at an angle from the front on a public street, but from above.
Forgó but sees no legal basis that citizens fight back against the publication of the images or even can force pixelization. “The national right to privacy in this case is probably not applicable,” says Forgó.
“It comes down to whether or not personal data is collected or processed domestically. That’s when shooting from space, made by an American company, probably in the rule to deny, “said the lawyer Forgó.
Even today it is common for citizens to be observed from the air. Cities, municipalities and municipal associations to be photographed for planning purposes on a regular basis their region from the plane.
The images have a resolution of six inches per pixel – enough to determine the location of road signs or lanterns precisely. However, these detailed recordings are very rare – and certainly not daily. Send The Ruhr cities the expensive aircraft every six to eight years in the air.
There are regular, then in the offices of a discussion of whether the images should be done in winter, when no leaves covered the ground, or in the summer when green spaces better evaluate leave.
Who uses the data from Planet Labs, can have both, though not yet in the quality of aircraft cameras. Planet Labs is outward as advocates of Open Access strategy. It is the best way to make the data available to anyone.
“The creativity of the users and developers will bring many new applications that we can not yet imagine,” says CEO Will Marshall. However, this formulation leaves open what exactly is the business model of the company and whether the disclosure of the data will actually be charged. Probably not. High-resolution satellite images are currently expensive, Planet Labs wants to tap this market with a better product. We’ll make sure that the data represent both humanitarian and commercial purposes says Will Marshall. The social aspect is the company’s founders important. More information about the business model want to give announced later this year, the Californians. Perhaps they are waiting only that Google, Microsoft and Apple are showing interest in Planet Labs and its technology.
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