A British spacecraft is now routinely making movies of the Earth's surface.Carbonite-2 was built by Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) in Guildford and launched in January.It is the forerunner of a network of spacecraft that will be sent up in the years ahead to be operated by Earth-i, an analytics firm also of Guildford. Carbonite's short clips are the first high-definition, full-color videos to be delivered from orbit by a commercial satellite on a regular basis.
The sequences have a resolution of one meter, which means the movement of cars, lorries, boats and planes is easily discerned.To mark the end of the satellite's commissioning phase, SSTL has released a number of videos that have been prepared with Earth-i.
These include views of Dubai Airport, Buenos Aires, Puerto Antofagasta, Rio de Janeiro, Diego Garcia and Mumbai Airport.Andrew Cawthorne, the director of Earth observation at SSTL, told BBC News: "We've made now coming up to 500 videos. We have an automated chain, which we had to fine-tune during commissioning, but now the files come down off the spacecraft and pop out a few minutes later.
"The way this satellite works is that it has to point at a target and hold its gaze, even though it's flying overhead at several km per second. The longest video we've made so far is 60 seconds, and I think the accuracy of the pointing speaks for itself." Earth observation has long made use of great swathes of still imagery, and at much higher resolution than Carbonite can provide. But video brings some additional capabilities.
For example, seeing movement within a scene helps with interpretation.If there are transient clouds crossing the target, having video increases the chances of getting a clear view.Analytics experts can also use the multiple frames in the sequence to make 3D models of the ground, or to "stack" those frames, one on top of the other, to synthesize a more resolved image, down to 60cm in Carbonite's case.
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