The super-accurate Earth-mapping satellite TanDEM-X has beamed back its first images, and they're detailed enough to show waves breaking in the Indian Ocean.
The German satellite is in excellent health and ready to team up with the TerraSAR-X satellite to create the most precise world maps ever made, BBC reports.
TanDEM-X's first images show the runways at Moscow's airport; a cubist-looking grid of forests and fields in Ukraine; and the difference between choppy and calm waters off Madagascar.
The spacecraft is flying over Earth at roughly 4 miles per second, and will join its partner satellite in a tight dance by this October.
The duo will bounce microwave pulses off Earth's surface and time the return signals, allowing them to map the entire land surface of the planet in extreme detail. TerraSAR-X has already mapped the surface within an accuracy of about 30 feet. The tandem satellites should be able to map the variation in height of the Earth's surface to within about six and a half feet.
This digital elevation information could enable military jets to fly ultra-low, or it could help relief workers spot damage wrought by natural disasters.
The satellites will orbit in a complicated dance that brings them within 700 feet of each other. They'll start making 3-D maps sometime in January, and it will take about three years to create a seamless map of the globe.
Very cool..now, I just wonder how each country's governments will be able to suppress sensitive data about military installations and such.
And..will these images be available to the common person on the inna-net?
I am pretty sure we can already take extremely accurate PICTURES of just about anything on the earths surface. They are just that. 2D flat pictures. If they have a military installation we probably can already see how many Dixie cups they have sitting on the table. This will map 3D topography better. I don't think that will effect how many tanks it will detect. Simply map the elevation and 3D features of the globe. As seen from that high, military installations tend to be pretty 2D in terms of scale anyway.
The only problem with this is that the earth's surface is constantly changing and today's elevation data is no longer valid tomorrow as the crust moves up and down, let alone after an earthquake of any size....
You're right, I better stop my 4 year old nephew from changing the relative elevation in his sandbox. What was I thinking?