The world's most powerful commercial Earth-imaging satellite was launched less than two weeks ago, but DigitalGlobe's WorldView-3 spacecraft is already sending back ultra-high-resolution pictures of cars with their doors left open and dump trucks that have clearly emptied their loads.
The resolution is so ultra-high, in fact, that the federal government isn't allowing DigitalGlobe to release the pictures at their best just yet. Due to regulatory restrictions, they have to be downgraded from a resolution of 12 inches per pixel to a fuzzier 15 inches per pixel (30 to 40 centimeters per pixel) until Feb. 21, 2015.
The pictures released on Tuesday were taken as WorldView-3 soared 383 miles (617 kilometers) over Madrid, Spain. It's easy to count the cars in a parking lot, and skilled analysts could even identify which types of cars they're looking at. Pictures of airplanes on a runway reveal the identification numbers, and a picture from a construction site shows what the trucks are carrying.
In the past, DigitalGlobe's satellite images have been used to track activity at Iranian nuclear facilities or North Korean launch pads. WorldView-3 will provide even sharper views of such sites, plus super-spectral imaging of agricultural areas, archaeological hot spots and your own backyard. You can look forward to seeing the difference in commercial databases such as Google Earth and Bing Maps.