A Dnepr rocket lifting off from Kazakhstan has successfully launched the second half of the world's most precise 3-D mapping mission of the globe into orbit today, setting in motion a tandem effort that will see two orbiting spacecraft fly in tight formation that will bring them well within 700 feet of each other as they map the earth's topography over the next three years.
Germany's TanDEM-X (TerraSAR-X add-on for Digital Elevation Measurement) successfully separated from its carrier rocket and was put into a polar orbit slightly inclined to the one it's sister satellite, TerraSAR-X. Together, the two will dance an intricate orbital tango as TanDEM-X flies a tight pattern around TerraSAR at an altitude of about 320 miles above the Earth. It's the first time two satellites will orbit in such a tight formation for such an extended period.
By bouncing microwaves pulses off the planet's surface and timing the return signals, the satellites' highly sensitive instruments will be able to map the entire land surface of the earth in extreme detail. TerraSAR-X alone has been able to map the surface to within an accuracy of about 30 feet, but with TanDEM-X at its side that accuracy should be pared down to within six-and-a-half feet.
A 3-D map that accurate will have vast military, research, civil, and commercial applications, ranging from tighter low-flying routes for strategic aircraft to better-organized search and rescue plans during earthquakes to more accurate city planning and land use assessments. Further, while other 3-D topographic maps have been piecemeal efforts, the TanDEM-X mission will be one single, cohesive map of the entire surface of the planet. With the satellites both in orbit, work now is focusing on upping the resolution so allow the rendering of detailed, massive images from the data collected from a single pass overhead.
Can't wait to see the Google Earth of 2014.
From what I can tell, the mission isn't so much as focused on being "3-D" (per se) as it is like an improved HD camera.
But because its resolution is accurate to "six-and-a-half feet" I think we'll still be seeing box-like geography images in some areas.
But now we can say GOODBYE to the patchwork of images we have been seeing all this time.
It doesn't mean 3D that you need 3D glasses to see, it means making images on programs like Google Earth have more detailed images of the Earth in 3D. If you look at Google Earth now and look at the surface of the planet, it's just a bunch of pictures on a sphere with few fairly inaccurate low res terrain features. This will make everything more realistic and more accurate by showing everything in 3D (but still on a 2D screen).
Tell me where to be and when, i'll be holding a sign for everyones viewing pleasure!