recommended reading

2 Spiffy—and Privately Owned—New Cameras Were Installed on the International Space Station Today

NASA/AP File Photo

Two cameras have been installed on the International Space Station (ISS), according to NASA representatives on a live webcast.

The two devices—a high-resolution video camera and a medium-resolution still camera—are operated by the Canadian firm Urthecast (pronounced Earth-cast). The first such cameras on the ISS, they will capture imagery of the Earth that can be viewed and purchased by consumers and businesses.

It will take some time before it’s clear that the cameras both function perfectly.

The installation means that all three of the venture-funded Earth-observation startups now out of stealth mode—Urthecast, Planet Labs, and Skybox—have cameras in orbit. 

As I wrote earlier this month, Urthecast boasts that it will stream video of Earth on its website mere hours after it was photographed. It hopes to sell both video and still imagery to consumers and businesses. Because the ISS orbits lower than other satellites, it will also capture imagery of places which other Earth-observing satellites cannot see as directly.

“I tend to think we’ll get pictures no one’s ever seen before,” the company’s CEO, Scott Larsen, told me in December.

Larsen envisioned parties, events, even wedding proposals being timed to the station’s passage overhead. A crowd of people might form massive letters in a field, then go inside and wait for the imagery from the ISS of the resulting word to stream on Urthecast’s website.

Businesses purchase satellite imagery for many reasons: to speculate on agriculture, to plan new development, or to watch over their equipment in unreachable or inconvenient climes.

If its cameras work, Urthecast will hold a monopoly on continuous commercial imagery captured from the ISS. It came by this monopoly thanks to a staggering deal with the Russian space agency (the RKA). According to Larsen, the RKA paid for the launch and installation of Urthecast’s two cameras. It will also pay for the ongoing cost of the imagery’s downlink to Earth.

In return, Urthecast merely had to build the cameras. The RKA will also retain all imagery the two cameras capture of Russia itself.

This monopoly on pictures taken from the world’s second best-known orbiting satellite lets Urthecast make a distinct appeal to consumers. While other startups are trying to build a business around cheaply capturing and selling imagery of the Earth, no others are as explicitly aiming for the consumer market.

Cosmonauts first tried to install Urthecast’s cameras in December, but faulty wiring within the station rendered them useless. They were taken back inside, and the problem was investigated and fixed. On this spacewalk, cosmonauts installed the high-resolution video camera without a hitch. They had to rejigger two of the medium-resolution camera’s connectors.

Urthecast went public last June, before it sent anything to space. Traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange, it’s valued at about $153 million. Its stock is up more than 5 percent today.

Threatwatch Alert

Thousands of cyber attacks occur each day

See the latest threats


Close [ x ] More from Nextgov

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.