For people who worry that it's impossible to escape from Google's amazing search capabilities, the ability to hide just got harder. Last month, Google helped sponsor the launch of the high-resolution GeoEye-1 satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. After a month of calibration and testing, the satellite's first image was released Friday by Satellite Imaging, a Houston-based remote sensing and survey company.
The stunningly clear image shows the campus of Kutztown University, located midway between Reading and Allentown, Penn. According to GeoEye executives, the image was formed by blending panchromatic and multispectral data to create a true-color image; it has a resolution of one half meter, or about a foot and a half.
"This image captures what is in fact the very first location the satellite saw when we opened the camera door and started imaging," said Brad Peterson, GeoEye's vice president of operations. "We expect the quality of the imagery to be even better as we continue the calibration activity."
The Geo-Eye-1 satellite is arguably the most accurate mapping satellite ever launched. The bird's panchromatic camera can take photographs at .41-meter resolution, which means objects as small as 16 inches across will be visible. One byproduct of the heightened resolution is that objects on Earth can be mapped to within an accuracy of three meters of their true location on the planet. The satellite's capabilities are all the more remarkable since it orbits 423 miles above the Earth's surface.
Under the terms of Satellite Imaging's contract with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees U.S. satellite imagery, only the U.S. government will have access to the most detailed images. One-half of the satellite's cost was provided by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which evaluates satellite imagery as part of the homeland security effort.
For other customers, including Google, Satellite Imaging will resample satellite data and provide photographs with a maximum resolution of .50 meter, or just over 19 inches. Once additional calibration takes place, Google will have the exclusive use of the images for its mapping programs, including Google Maps online and the desktop application Google Earth. However, the new images will not be available for several months.
More Detail But No Less Privacy
Kate Horowitz, manager of global communications and public affairs for Google, dismissed concerns that the new bird would reduce personal privacy.
"The imagery you will see in Google Maps and Google Earth is commercial in nature," Hurowitz said. "That means the resolution of this imagery does not typically permit the identification of individuals, and the images are not real time."
She noted that the images used in Google Earth will be the same ones available to a wide variety of commercial customers, including state and local governments, environmental monitoring and land use management, agriculture, disaster management, and so on.
"Google cares deeply about our users, and protecting the public's trust is of utmost importance to the company," she said. "We believe that the benefits of access to Google Earth for such valuable purposes far outweigh any negatives from potential abuse."