Atlas 5 Rocket Lofts DigitalGlobe’s WorldView-3 Satellite
Correction: An earlier version said the launch occurred from Cape Canaveral.
PONTE VEDRA, Florida — AAtlas 5 rocket on Aug. 13 successfully placed the WorldView-3 commercial high-resolution, multispectral Earth observation satellite into low Earth orbit in the 10th of 15 launch campaigns planned by this year.
Operating from the Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, the Atlas 5 401 — the vehicle’s lightest version — placed the 2,810-kilogram WorldView-3 into a polar sun-synchronous orbit at about 629 kilometers in altitude.
subsequently announced the satellite’s successful deployment in orbit. WorldView-3 is designed to operate for at least 7.5 years.
Built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colorado, WorldView-3 will permit Longmont, Colorado-based DigitalGlobe to raise the sharpness of images provided to its prime customer, the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, but also to the company’s commercial customers.
The U.S. Commerce Department in June approved a DigitalGlobe request to make images as sharp as 25 centimeters available to commercial customers. The effect of the policy change was to enable the company to begin offering 46-centimeter-resolution imagery to customers immediately from its orbiting-1 and WorldView-2 satellites.
WorldView-3 has a ground resolution of 31 centimeters, meaning it can distinguish objects of that diameter and larger. Neal Anderson, DigitalGlobe’s vice president for technology, said the satellite will be able to clearly detect the home plate of a baseball field, and to determine by uniform color which team is on offense or defense.
The policy change was accompanied by a requirement that DigitalGlobe wait until six months after the satellite is in operation before selling its 30-centimeter-resolution imagery.
No commercial competitor to DigitalGlobe is able to sell imagery this sharp. The company has said it hopes the higher-resolution offer will enable it to attack the global market for aerial imagery, a market that is served by dozens of small companies performing aerial surveys locally.
Denver-based Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services had said it had sought, without success, to find a co-passenger for DigitalGlobe. The Atlas 5 rocket, even in its lightest configuration — no strap-on boosters and a single burn of its Centaur upper stage — has much more power than what is needed for WorldView-3.
Lockheed Martin officials said they would use the large amount of excess fuel remaining after the satellite’s separation to place the Centaur upper stage into an escape orbit far above the operating lanes of satellites to remove any orbital-debris threat.