The world is getting its first look at what the commercial Earth-observation cameras installed on the International Space Station can do.
The Vancouver-based company UrtheCast released images taken by its orbiting HD equipment for the first time today (April 3), posting two photos captured on March 28 by its medium-resolution camera, dubbed "Theia." One picture is centered on the town of Moneague, Jamaica, while the other shows the area around Santa Cruz de Mara, Venezuela.
"This is a pivotal moment for the company and for everyone who's been part of the vision that we set in motion in the fall of 2010," UrtheCast CEO and co-founder Scott Larson wrote in a blog post about the photo release today. "Our team has been working extremely hard to make certain that we reach this goal of democratizing a very powerful perspective on the planet." [UrtheCast Photos of Earth and Space Cameras]
Theia takes pictures with a resolution of 16.5 feet (5 m), while the other UrtheCast camera records color video that can resolve details as small as 3 feet (1 m) across. The two HD cameras, which together cost $17 million, were installed on the space station in January by two spacewalking cosmonauts.
UrtheCast (pronounced "Earthcast") hopes to sell its imagery to a variety of customers — government agencies that want to track resource use, for example, and private companies that want a bird's-eye view of their operations.
The company also plans to stream imagery in near real time, drawing lots of eyes to its website. This would be good for the company as well as the world, Larson said.
"When you speak to astronauts, they all say that going to space fundamentally changes them," he wrote in the blog post. "They see how small the globe is, with no borders between countries, and they all come back with a greater sense of connectedness, and a renewed appreciation of our responsibility to protect the planet. Our goal at UrtheCast is to recreate that astronaut experience, in Ultra HD, and stream it across the web. Releasing this image is just the start of that democratization."
Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. Originally published on Space.com.