- WASHINGTON (Reuters) - With the launching of the world's first commercial
spy-like satellite, just about anybody with a credit card may soon enjoy
an eye in the sky.
- ``EarlyBird 1'' was designed to pick
out features on the ground as small as three meters (10 feet) across from
its orbit 473 km (295 miles) above the earth.
- It was successfully launched Wednesday
atop a Russian rocket by its builder, EarthWatch Inc., of Longmont, Colo.
- The launching, from a military base in
eastern Russia, ended the monopoly of the world's most advanced military
and intelligence services on gathering high-resolution pictures from space.
- ``The people of the world will soon have
easy and inexpensive access to the most refined representation of our planet
ever assembled,'' Donovan Hicks, EarthWatch's president, said in a statement.
- Currently, the sharpest such commercially
available imagery captures features no smaller than 10 meters (33 feet).
Such pictures are sold by Spot Images of Toulouse, France, as well as by
companies in Russia and the United States.
- After a brief calibration and commissioning
period, the EarlyBird 1 satellite will begin beaming back images with three-meter
``resolution'' that can be purchased, among other ways, through the Internet
by any approved customer.
- EarthWatch said Thursday that customers
had already begun commissioning images at its web site, www.digitalglobe.com,
with a minimum charge of $300.
- Prices of black-and-white pictures range
from $2.75 to $7.25 per square km (0.4 square miles), depending on whether
they come from the company's archives or are collected at a specified time
and date, Bob Wientzen, a company spokesman said.
- Color imagery is also available, although
it is less sharp and more expensive. ``Typically, we can supply specially
ordered imagery within a few days,'' Wientzen said.
- The pictures may be used in a wide range
of applications, including town planning, mapmaking, disaster relief, mining
and giving the media and the public the chance to scrutinize environmental
and military crises.
- With three-meter capabilities, cars can
be distinguished from trucks, for example. In imagery taken at 10-meter
resolution, neither cars nor trucks can be identified.
- EarthWatch, Spot and firms in India,
Israel, Russia and China plan to launch next-generation satellites in coming
years capable of distinguishing ground objects with a diameter just below
one meter (39.37 inches).
- With such ``submeter'' resolution, ``you
could see a blanket on the beach but not the person on it,'' Wientzen said
in a telephone interview. He said EarthWatch planned to launch such a system
called QuickBird in 1999.
- The Clinton administration opened the
door for U.S. companies to enter the so-called high-resolution ``remote
sensing'' field in 1994, bowing to industry arguments that foreign rivals
would otherwise have a free hand.
- But the federal government retains the
right switch off the commercial sensors in times of war or international
tension. In addition, it bans U.S.-licensed satellite operators from selling
images to the governments of Cuba, Libya, North Korea, Iran and Iraq or
any of their suspected agents.
- The launch of EarlyBird 1 provided a
vivid reminder that the Cold War is over. It was the first commercial launch
from the Svobodny Cosmodrome, Russia's newest commercial launch site.
- The satellite was fired into space Wednesday
at 8:33 a.m. EST (1333 GMT), atop a former intercontinental ballistic missile
known as START-1, for the arms control treaty that made the missile obsolete.