USA, 21 November 2006 – A next-generation spacecraft will launch next year that can take satellite images of the Earth that show objects as small as 20 inches across – about the width of a seat at a stadium. It also can take four to five times as many images as existing satellites during its 90-minute orbits of the planet.
About 150 employees of Ball Aerospace in Boulder, USA are working on the satellite, called WorldView-1. The company is doing final testing in preparation for a mid-2007 launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base on California’s central coast. The images from the satellite will be used by commercial clients as well as agencies that track floods and fires, and gather intelligence for government and military purposes.
Ball is building the satellite for DigitalGlobe, which won a $500 million contract from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in 2003 for the imaging satellite. DigitalGlobe had launched QuickBird, which takes color images, in 2001. That satellite just passed its original expected lifespan of five years.
WorldView’s images will be black and white, but it will be more agile. “Control moment” gyroscopes will be used to move and point the satellite quickly. “It will be able to point about 10 times quicker, so when we’re flying over any region, we’ll be able to hit more targets,” said DigitalGlobe spokesman Chuck Herring.
The launch has been delayed nearly a year because a subcontractor had difficulty getting parts for the camera. Heavy demand also has delayed other imagery satellites, according to DigitalGlobe. The satellite has an expected life span of just over seven years.
Meanwhile, DigitalGlobe competitor GeoEye, the company formed when Orbimage acquired Thornton-based Space Imaging in January, plans to launch its new satellite next spring. GeoEye-1 will be able to clearly see things as small as 0.41 meter in black and white and as small as 1.65 meter in color.
Separately, DigitalGlobe is working on plans for a second WorldView satellite to be built by Ball Aerospace. DigitalGlobe is “committed to working with Ball and committed to launching it in 2008,” Herring said.
WorldView II will be financed by DigitalGlobe, will take images in black and white and eight bands of color, and is aimed at replacing QuickBird. QuickBird is expected to be in operation until late 2009.
Until then, WorldView will free up QuickBird to serve only the commercial marketplace. That market has not grown as quickly as the industry had hoped for years ago, but business has picked up.
“It’s obviously been slower than what we had wanted and what we had hoped,” said Ball Aerospace’s WorldView project manager Alexei Chernushin. “We had always hoped that the market would take off.”
When DigitalGlobe first started, its work was 90 percent government and 10 percent commercial. Now, that ratio is closer to 60 percent government and 40 percent commercial. Herring said the company’s relationship with Google Earth has increased awareness of the company and satellite imagery.