For the First Time Ever, You Can Buy HD Video of Earth From Space

The cars move! The smoke blows in the wind!
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Check out the video below. It’s high-resolution video taken from space, images of places like Tokyo, Las Vegas, a mine in Australia, and a power plant in Maryland:

It’s the first imagery of its kind available to the public. 

It was released today by Skybox, a San Francisco startup that plans to send 24 satellites into space. This video was taken by its first satellite, SkySat-1, which launched in November; the company says it will send another into space by the end of March 2014.

High-resolution video from space is only likely to become more popular over the next decade. I’ll write about this more soon, but other startups plan to offer it. Vancouver’s UrtheCast, for example, will mount both a still and video camera onto the International Space Station.

What’s interesting about Skybox’s video, beyond its “whoa!” factor? It looks like it has a resolution of about one meter, or three feet. That’s enough to see cars and trucks, but not to discern individual human bodies.

Skybox’s larger goal is to sell what it can analyze about the global economy to companies, so that resolution makes sense. It can parse weather patterns and traffic conditions, but not individuals.

Besides, are you worried about satellites seeing moving individuals from space? Skybox’s satellites were built from ordinary hardware supplies, and they can capture only 90-second clips at 30 frames per second. It’s highly likely that the U.S. government’s, backed with millions of dollars and military-grade supplies, have long been able to do better.

And what satellites can’t see, drones can.

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Robinson Meyer is an associate editor at The Atlantic, where he covers technology.

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