Tuesday, January 28, 2014

UrtheCast Cameras Reinstalled on ISS

          by Brian Orlotti

Cosmonauts Kotov & Ryazanksy. Photo c/o NASA.
According to the January 27th, 2014 Canadian Press article "Cosmonauts install Canadian company's cameras on space station," two high definition cameras built by Vancouver-based UrtheCast Corp to transmit Earth images from the International Space Station (ISS) are now online after a Jan 27th spacewalk by two Russian cosmonauts.

But there might still be hurdles for the plucky BC start-up to overcome. According to the January 27th, 2014 CBS News article, "Camera problem persists after spacewalk setup,"  a "problem of some sort" is still preventing images from a second, lower-resolution camera from sending telemetry to the ground. 

The company is expected to make an official announcement later today.

UrtheCast developed the two cameras to provide high resolution still images as well as the world's first ultra HD (aka ‘4K’) video feed of Earth. The images and video will be made available to the public via Urthecast’s web portal as a mixture of free and paid content. The ultra HD video and still imagery of Earth expected to be captured by UrtheCast's cameras will enable a variety of applications such as environmental monitoring, humanitarian relief coordination, organizing social events, land usage analysis and many others. The company will also provide developers with an open source application programming interface (API) so they can develop apps and games that utilize the cameras’ data.

UrtheCast is one of several firms currently looking to provide real-time, "better than Google Earth imagery" according to the January 7th, 2014 Atlantic article "Silicon Valley's New Spy Satellites," which singled out Urthecast, Planet Labs, and Skybox as the start-ups most likely to build a revenue generating business.

Space is not space between the earth and the sun to one who looks down from the windows of the Milky Way,” according to author Khalil Gibran, in his poem "Sand and Foam."

UrtheCast began in 2010 with five employees, growing to 65 in both Canada and the US. After an initial investment of $500,000 CDN, the company went on to raise over $77 million in funding after going public via a reverse takeover of publicly-traded Longford Energy Inc.

As development of the cameras progressed, Urthecast approached the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and pitched the idea of mounting the cameras to the Russian portion of the ISS. Roscosmos embraced the idea and lent its full support. In a deal struck between Urthecast and Roscosmos, Roscosmos will hold the rights to Urthecast data in Russia, while Urthecast holding rights for all other nations.

The success of today’s spacewalk is no doubt welcome news after an attempted installation in December met with setbacks. As outlined in the January 27th, 2014 Associated Press article, "Russian cosmonauts undertake spacewalk to hookup Canadian-made camera," cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy had connected the cameras to the ISS during a post-Christmas spacewalk. But Urthecast ground stations received no data from the cameras, forcing the cosmonauts to bring them back inside. The issue was eventually traced to indoor ISS data cabling and resolved, paving the way for today’s successful install.

Brian Orlotti.
UrtheCast will spend the next month calibrating and testing the two cameras. Urthecast CEO Wade Larson said he expects to release the first picture in five weeks, with full video streaming beginning in mid-summer. Soon, a crystal-clear view of the Earth from above can be had by anyone with a simple click of a mouse.

Brian Orlotti is a Toronto-based IT professional and the treasurer of the Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA).

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