[UPDATE 1630 EDT: The launch of the satellite on a Delta 2 rocket was successful! Here are some photos of the launch from SpaceFlight Now. It will be a few months before the satellite is fully tested, begins operational status, and photos start appearing in Google Earth – read below for more details.]
DigitalGlobe (DG) is the company with the largest contract to provide satellite photography to Google Earth and Maps. Today, DG is launching the first of two new satellites, called WorldView I and II, with better technologies to provide resolution up to 50 cm / pixel, enhanced data speeds, and better quality data. WorldView II is expected to be launched in late-2008. Once WorldView I is fully deployed and tested, DG says the satellite will enable it to acquire data at about 7 times the current rate. See details from this ZDNet story.
Boeing is the company launching the satellite today from the Vandenburg AFB launch site. See the launch site here in Google Earth. You can watch the rocket launch live today between 11:15 and 11:49 AM PDT (that’s 1415 EDT) as a web cast. Visit this Boeing site for details. After the launch window, a web cast recording will be available by tomorrow.
Those of you who are eager to see more Google Earth imagery should realize it typically takes about 6 months for a satellite to be fully tested after its launch before new data becomes available for use. This new satellite will not mean Google Earth will suddenly have live data. It will still be typically several weeks to a few months before new data is put into Google Earth. In addition, the satellite is still dependent on having the right weather conditions before getting a good photo (no clouds, haze, smoke, dust, right angle of the sun) worth putting into Google Earth. But, the faster data acquisition should speed things up some. Having more satellites will definitely improve the chances for new data.
The new satellite is limited to releasing images for commercial use at no higher than 50 cm resolution by government restrictions. Most of the high resolution satellite imagery is already at 60 – 100 cm resolution. So, this new satellite imagery will at best be slightly higher resolution. Google Earth also has acquired higher resolution aerial imagery (e.g. taken from planes) that is as high as 5 cm resolution (see Las Vegas for example). Although details haven’t been made available, it is possible the satellite is capable of higher resolution imagery. Maybe someday the government will allow higher resolution imagery to be sold.