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Friday, 11 January, 2002, 16:19 GMT
Non-military satellite views Earth
You can even see the shadows of flags
By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

A private satellite has started returning the most detailed, freely available pictures ever taken of our planet.

Quickbird is the world's highest-resolution, commercial, imaging satellite and its first images show details never before seen by a non-military satellite.

Tennis courts in a Washington park
Flags surrounding the Washington Monument in Washington DC, US, trees in the garden of the Imperial Palace in Bangkok, and even the lines of a tennis court in a Washington park, show its potential.

"To say that we are pleased with the quality of the imagery is an understatement. We are thrilled," says Herb Satterlee, president and chief executive officer of DigitalGlobe, the company that runs the satellite.

"The consistent feedback from our customers who have seen the imagery is that we have taken the commercial satellite imaging industry to a new level."

First images

The satellite was launched on 18 October, 2001, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on a Boeing Delta rocket into a 450-kilometre- (280-mile-) high orbit. It will begin full commercial operations in July 2002.

The Imperial Palace in Bangkok
Applications for this imagery include detailed mapping, resource management, urban planning, telecommunications, and agriculture.

Following its orbital checkout, Quickbird began producing black-and-white pictures showing objects down to 61 centimetres (2 feet) across. Quickbird is also able to produce colour images down to 2.4 metres (8 feet) in size.

Buildings, bridges and cars are clearly seen showing details that have only previously been seen by highly-classified spy satellites.

With Quickbird's high resolution, Digitalglobe hope to beat its commercial competitors - such as the Ikonos satellite and the French Spot satellites.

Wider view of the Washington Monument
See also:

07 Feb 00 | Sci/Tech
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