Watching Earth ... from the International Space Station. Photo: AP
Wouldn’t it be amazing to sit aboard the International Space Station, watching Earth’s continents and oceans pass by as you orbit the planet?
If a start-up called Urthecast has its way, you’ll soon be able to replicate that experience from your computer, thanks to HD cameras mounted on the station to stream near real-time video of Earth 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It will be the first-ever HD streaming video feed of Earth from space, and will let viewers discern objects as small as one metre wide.
The company’s cameras are being built right now, says co-founder Scott Larson, and will be completed in early summer. Then they’ll be shipped to Russia, where the Russian Federal Space Agency will schedule them for transport to the station. Larson says the system should be fully up and running early next year.
The cameras will continuously film Earth as the station orbits the planet about 15 times per day. Footage will be downlinked to ground stations, then immediately streamed via Urthecast.com. Larson expects to provide footage every second for five to ten years.
“Because we know where the space station is, you’ll be able to enter your address and find out when it will be on you next or see past images from your area,” Larson said in an interview with Mashable.com. “Then you can walk outside and organise an event for when it will be over you again.”
The company staged a 170-person flashmob in San Francisco this weekend (see video below). It was filmed from helicopters as a promotional example of what people will be able to do with Urthecast’s high-resolution feeds. Larson says events similar to the flash mob are one way Urthecast will monetise its technology: companies will be able to pay for Urthecast to train its cameras on certain locations at designated times and then, for example, organise logs on a beach to spell out a real-time advertisement streamed from space.
Urthecast also plans to sell exclusive images and video to groups such as mining and agriculture companies for whom the big-picture data will be extremely useful. The company’s third revenue stream is to open its API for developers to build apps and games on top of the Urthecast platform.
How did something like this come to be? Larson says he was connected by mutual friends to the Russian space agency, which was looking for publicity and a way to promote its work.
“All space agencies need to justify their budgets and so forth,” Larson says. “They were looking for something exciting and educational to put on the International Space Station.”
An agreement was soon hashed out, and Larson believes Urthecast’s streaming platform will help reshape how people relate to places and the world around them. The company also plans to aggregate other content from around the web to augment its footage. For example user pictures taken from near the Eiffel Tower will be viewable when looking for Eiffel Tower footage shot from the space station.
“The idea is like Facebook and Twitter where you follow a person, but here you’ll follow a location instead of a person,” Larson says. “Anything to do with a location will be aggregated into Urthecast.com.”
The Urthecasts flashmob event in San Francisco:
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