Google Earth gets new eye in the sky



A super-sharp Earth-imaging satellite that can detail an area the size of a baseball diamond’s home plate from space has been launched into orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base on the Central California coast.

A Delta 2 rocket carrying the GeoEye-1 satellite lifted off at 11.50am on Saturday. Video on the GeoEyewebsite showed the satellite separating from the rocket moments later on its way to an eventual polar orbit.

Arizona-based General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems, the satellite makers, say GeoEye-1 cost more than $US500 million to build and launch.

The satellite will orbit 681km up and circle the Earth more than a dozen times a day. In a single day, it can collect color images of an area the size of New Mexico, or a black-and-white image the size of Texas.

In black-and-white mode, the satellite can distinguish objects on the Earth’s surface as small as 41cm, GeoEye said.

The company says the satellite’s imaging services will be sold for uses that could range from environmental mapping to agriculture and defence.

GeoEye-1 will also provide images to Google for exclusive use on its mapping services.

Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were on hand to watch Saturday’s launch of the satellite – which was carried in to space by a Delta II rocket emblazoned with Google’s logo.

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