Another Step Towards Live Satellite Maps

The next step in the race towards “live” maps seems to be public satellite, or ISS, based near realtime HD video. The footage below is from Skybox Imaging, a company that has just started offering customers 90-second video of any point on Earth from its SkySat-1 satellite. In this clip, the SkyBox video sits on top of a static layer of satellite imagery and is overlaid by a map layer from Mapbox, based on OpenStreetMap.

Another company, Planet Labs, has just launched its own fleet of 28 imaging microsatellites from the International Space Station and hopes to offer scientists and the public the chance to track changes on the Earth’s surface with much higher frequency than ever before. These satellites will only provide still images though.

Yet another company, Urthecast, recently successfully deployed their cameras to the International Space Station with a planned beta launch of their partly free service later this year. First images of the medium resolution camera are already available.

Also NASA seems to be willing to ride the wave by putting up four off the shelf HD cameras outside the ISS for the HDEV (High Definition Earth Viewing) project. The cameras will be insulated but not shielded against radiation. One of the projects goals is to find out what camera copes best with the radiation.

[Update] Recently found this more comprehensive list of players in this race on ieee.spectrum.

Four HD Cameras for the ISS

With the SpaceX Dragon 3 capsule that was recently berthed to the ISS, NASA deployed the HDEV (High Definition Earth Viewing) experiment to space. It consists of four of the shelf HD video cameras in a common housing with a video encoder and router.

Today ISSs robotic arm extracted the box from the Dragons unpressurized cargo hold and mounted it outside of the Columbus module.

Direct link to the Ustream page.

Live stream showing video of all four cameras in a predefined sequence.

The four cameras are mounted so that one camera is pointing forward into the stations velocity vector, two cameras to the back and one down towards the earth.
The housing insulates the cameras from the extreme temperatures and vacuum of space but will provide no significant shielding against radiation. That’s on purpose as the main reason for the experiment is to find out how none radiation hardened cameras, especially their sensors, will fare in this environment.

The video signal is encoded to a H264 stream for the downlink and broadcasted live on a ustream channel. The stream will show all four installed cameras in a preprogrammed sequence.

This is an interesting contribution in the race towards live satellite maps, several companies are now taking part in, as the possibility to use off the shelf camera would definitely limit the costs for such ventures.