January 27, 2014 11:05 pm
Updated: January 28, 2014 10:05 am

Vancouver-based UrtheCast has big plans for cameras on space station


TORONTO – If you’re planning on getting married outdoors, you will soon be able to have it pictured from space.

This could happen thanks to the Vancouver-based company Urthecast (pronounced “Earth-cast”) that had two of its cameras installed on the International Space Station (ISS) by two Russian cosmonauts Monday morning.

The company’s cameras — a still camera and a high-resolution video camera — are set to make the unique view of Earth accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.

READ MORE: Russian cosmonauts undertake spacewalk to hook up Canadian-made camera

The camera that was made by Vancouver-based UrtheCast, was mounted on the space station on Jan. 27, by two Russian cosmonauts. It will begin to transmit images of Earth in near real-time.


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The video camera has a one-metre resolution that can be swivelled around and pointed at particular locations.

Scott Larson, CEO of UrtheCast said that the still camera can be used for wide-area coverage. Organizations can use it for a variety of tools, including agricultural monitoring, urban planning or mapping.

“People take pictures of the coffee farms in South America to determine if it’ll be a good year for coffee or bad; is the price of coffee going to go up or down? They’ll take pictures of Walmart’s parking lot to count cars in the parking lot to be able to determine same-store sales, based on how many cars are in each parking lot. So there’s lots of business intelligence, lots of government-agency stuff, ministry of forestry, farming, agriculture, resource-management mapping and so forth.”

But the video camera can be moved around and pointed at something else — with an incredible resolution of just one metre.

“If you imagine the space station’s going over Hamilton, and one camera is pointed directly down, taking a picture of the suburbs…the other camera, we decide we want to point over downtown Toronto,” Larson told Global News. “We’ll take a 90-second video at what we call a 1-metre resolution… So, cars, buses, boats, planes, groups of people — you’ll never see the guy mowing the lawn in the backyard, but you can see a golf cart. And we’ll take 150 of those videos, full colour, every day.”

The still camera is considered medium-sized resolution: it has a five-metre resolution, meaning it can see something that is five metres across. It is mounted aboard the station and points directly down.

The camera will archive the videos and photos and be accessible to everyone.

“The idea is that the vast majority of the images that we take are streamed over the web for free and everyone can have some kind of input into where they get pointed.”

Because the path of the space station is known by NASA, UrtheCast will also provide the public with the ability to search their address to find out when the camera will be pointed at them next.

“You can organize your event around when you’ll be imaged from space. So your wedding, your corporate event, your buddies in white shorts on a green field, spelling out ‘I love you. Will you marry me?’ that type of thing. A couple of hours later it’s processed and it’s streaming out over the web and you can download, edit it, remix it, share it, whatever else.”

READ MORE: Space station astronauts make rare Christmas Eve spacewalk

The company will also allow developers to use an open-source application programming interface (API) to develop apps or games.

Larson said that, though there are plenty of satellites with cameras taking images of Earth, the UrtheCast cameras are unique in two ways: one, instead of the billions that satellites cost, their camera cost only about $17 million; secondly, it allows them to be more creative with the data they acquire.

Eventually the company will begin charging companies and organizations for use of their cameras for specific events, but the streaming will be open to everyone.

Over the next four of five weeks, UrtheCast will begin testing the cameras. Larson said they expect to release the first picture in about five weeks’ time. It will begin fully streaming by the middle of summer.

Urthecast began three years ago with only five people. The company raised $500,000 and continued to raise funds for the camera project, incorporating itself in 2010. From there, it raised around $67 million.

It spent the first six months designing the cameras and then another 18 months building up the company. It now has a contingent of 65 staff, in Canada and the United States.

It approached the Russian space agency which was “thrilled” with the idea of the camera and agreed to support it.

Russia owns the data gathered by Urthecast for use in its borders, for the rest of the world, Urthecast holds the rights.

© 2014 Shaw Media

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