Google's high-res eye in the sky beams back images

World's highest resolution commercial satellite sends back spectacularly detailed images of the ground

A Google-sponsored satellite that beams back high-resolution photos of the Earth has begun collecting images.

The GeoEye-1 satellite is capable of capturing images at a ground resolution of just 41cmn, from 423 miles above ground level.

However, such fine detail is off limits to the likes of Google, with US licensing restrictions forcing the satellite company to process the images at half-meter ground resolution.

Nevertheless, the GeoEye-1 is the world's highest resolution commercial satellite. The first image sent back by the satellite - of Kuztown University in Pennsylvania - shows the sumptuous level of detail that may soon start appearing in products such as Google Earth and Maps.

"This image captures what is in fact the very first location the satellite saw when we opened the camera door and started imaging," says Brad Peterson, GeoEye's vice president. "We expect the quality of the imagery to be even better as we continue the calibration activity."

Yet, even though the 4,300-pound satellite sports a Google sticker, it's biggest customer is likely to be Government intelligence services. The US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency has paid half of the development costs of the $500 million satellite, with Google the second biggest partner in the project.

"GeoEye-1 is an excellent fit to meet the US Government's important requirements for mapping and broad area space-based imagery collection over the next decade," says Bill Schuster, GeoEye's chief operating officer.

GeoEye will start selling its imagery later this year.

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