The WorldView-3 satellite, which launched on August 13, has sent back its first images. They’re gorgeous, and kind of creepy.
The new satellite can see to a resolution of 31 centimeters. That means each pixel of the camera captures one square foot of land, which is sharp enough to see home plate at Yankee Stadium, to map crops by pattern and type, to identify the type and speed of cars and trucks, and measure population density, all from 383 miles above the Earth’s surface.
WV-3 isn’t the sharpest satellite ever–some military satellites have a resolution of 15 to 20 centimeters–but it does have the highest resolution of any commercial satellite in the world. (The previous record-holder, GeoEye-1, had a resolution of 46 centimeters.)
But WV-3 is important for another reason. Up until now, U.S. regulations prevented companies from selling images with resolutions finer than 50 centimeters to anyone but the military. But WV-3’s maker, DigitalGlobe, has been granted tentative permission to break that rule. Starting six months from now, they’ll be able to sell images with a 30-centimeter resolution to anyone who’s willing to buy.
The images shown here have a resolution to 40 centimeters, because the company isn’t allowed to start showing the 30-centimeter images until the six-month waiting period is over.