Most powerful commercial imaging satellite now in orbit

14 Aug 2014

The WorldView-3 satellite. Image via DigitalGlobe

Known as the WorldView-3, the latest commercial imaging satellite is now the most powerful camera of its kind in orbit, capable of taking images as small as 31cm in resolution.

The ultra-HD camera will add a new clearer perspective on the world below and will be available for a range of uses, particularly environmental, to track events including wildfires, migration or the rise of sea levels.

Created by DigitalGlobe, the WorldView-3 marks further improvement on the company’s previous model, which was limited to its resolution of 50cm as set out by the US government and with its new increased accuracy will make the company increasingly competitive in a growing industry, according to the BBC.

The previous record holder for the most powerful eye in the sky was another one of the company’s satellites, GeoEye-1, launched in 2007. GeoEye-1 has provided organisations with an imaging resolution as small as 41cm.

The WorldView-3 will operate about 617km above the Earth’s surface. It will revisit a location less than once a day, covering more than 680,000km2 in the process which, with its other existing satellites, will make up more than 4m km2 on a daily basis.

Entirely new systems

With so much raw data collected by the telescope, the team at DigitalGlobe had to build an entirely new and faster data transmitter capable of sending 1.2Gbps, faster than most Wi-Fi networks on Earth.

Another key component of the satellite is the CAVIS (clouds, aerosols, water vapour, ice and snow) programme, which is designed to correct any inconsistencies in images caused by any of these factors.

Prior to its launch, Craig Oswald wrote in DigitalGlobe’s blog that when put into perspective, the scale to which it is capable of taking images is incredibly minute.

“For perspective, that is the same as the distance between Southern California’s Hollywood sign and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. If the imagery were located at the Hollywood sign, users would be able to count all of the people on the Golden Gate Bridge.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic