SAN FRANCISCO — Canada’s UrtheCast sent the first camera designed to provide high-definition streaming video imagery of Earth from the international space station on a Nov. 25 launch of Russia’s Progress unmanned cargo ship from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
After a four-day journey to the space station scheduled to conclude Nov. 29 at press time, the video camera in addition to a still camera and associated hardware will be installed on a movable platform attached to the exterior of the Russian Zvezda service module. “From there, the cameras will go through an on-board commissioning process, which will take a few months,” said Scott Larson, chief executive of UrtheCast of Vancouver, British Columbia.
UrtheCast plans to begin offering the first sample images drawn from its 5-meter-resolution still camera for public viewing next spring. Later in 2014, the company plans to offer free Internet streaming of that imagery, providing the public with a continuous view of Earth from the space station.
UrtheCast’s commercial operations, which still are several months away, are focused on the firm’s 1-meter-resolution video imagery. The high-definition video camera, which is designed to point at specific locations on Earth, will downlink data to an international network of ground stations. That video imagery will then be offered through UrtheCast’s Web platform and distributed directly to the firm’s customers, including governments, large corporations, forest management agencies, agriculture organizations and media and entertainment groups.
“We have customers lined up all over the world,” Larson said. “We are not disclosing individual customers, just the general industries. What we have disclosed is that we have signed $21 million worth of annual distribution agreements.”
In addition, UrtheCast has received letters of interest from customers seeking distribution agreements that could be worth an additional $79 million annually, Larson said. In a statement released Nov. 14, UrtheCast announced that distribution agreements with two firms in Asia would provide income of $2 million a year.
UrtheCast partners include: the Russian space agency Roscosmos; RSC Energia; RAL Space, part of the United Kingdom Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory; and Canada’s MDA Corp. RSC Energia arranged the launch of UrtheCast’s cameras and worked with Roscosmos to arrange installation of the equipment on the space station. RAL Space built UrtheCast’s cameras. MDA developed payload data electronics for the mission.
UrtheCast also announced Nov. 20 that the firm obtained the first comprehensive insurance coverage for sending equipment to the space station. The insurance policy covers the launch, installation, commissioning and operation of the firm’s two cameras.
“The placement of this insurance provides significant risk mitigation for our shareholders’ investment,” Wade Larson, UrtheCast co-founder, president and chief operating officer, said in a statement. “In the small chance that it will be required, we will return to the construction of our next-generation cameras and ensure that they are, again, space-ready.”
The coverage UrtheCast obtained through an insurance broker the firm declined to identify carries a value of approximately $35 million to cover the potential loss of both cameras. If the two cameras were lost, UrtheCast “would immediately initiate the construction of its second-generation cameras to be mounted on the international space station,” the company said in the Nov. 20 announcement. “These cameras would leverage the knowledge gained by our engineering staff during the construction of the first-generation cameras, allowing us to efficiently replace the cameras.”
UrtheCast stock began trading publicly in June when the firm completed a reverse takeover of Longford Energy Inc., a $30 million shell company established as a resource business. The company’s stock trades publicly on the Toronto Stock Exchange, under the ticker symbol UR.