The Latest Commercial Satellite Can See a Dinner Plate from Space

DigitalGlobe’s WorldView-3 has a resolution of just over nine inches

A current commercial satellite image of the Smithsonian Castle in Washington, DC, as seen in Google Earth. This isn't even zoomed all the way in. Google Earth

Your average broadsheet newspaper page is 15 inches wide and 22.75 inches tall, which means that the latest commercial imaging satellite should have no problems whatsoever seeing it from space.

Yesterday DigitalGlobe launched its WorldView-3 satellite into orbit. The WorldView-3 is a a commercial satellite capable of seeing the ground in such high detail that, up until just two months ago, it would have been illegal for anyone but the U.S. government to get their hands on the images.

WorldView-3 is capable of seeing objects on the ground that are just over 9 inches wide, about the size of one of those big dinner plates you can pick up at Ikea. Previously a federal rule meant that DigitalGlobe could only sell images with resolution better than 20 inches to the government, but a decision by the U.S. Department of Commerce back in June overturned the restriction. Under the new rules, images with resolutions up to 9.8 inches (25 centimeters) are open for business. One of DigitalGlobe's big buyers is Google, so among other things you can bet on Google Maps getting a whole lot more detailed in the years to come. 

“From its location nearly 382 miles up, the satellite is now able to return pictures of a baseball game that clearly shows home plate and how many players are on the field,” says the Denver Post. The satellite “won't be able to offer up sufficient detail for facial recognition from space,” says Wired UK, “but it could provide supporting evidence for the positive identification of individuals.”

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