UrtheCast Commits ISS Cam To Aiding U.N. Relief Work

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SAN FRANCISCO — UrtheCast, the Canadian firm that plans to offer a live video stream from the international space station, has signed an agreement with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research to provide high-resolution imagery to assist the agency’s humanitarian relief work.

Since 2003, the Institute for Training and Research has provided maps and data derived from satellites, unmanned aerial vehicles and photographers on the ground to various U.N. agencies, member states and nongovernmental organizations, including the Red Cross, through the U.N. Operational Satellite Applications Program (UNOSAT). “Detailed live video from the international space station will enhance our current suite of remote sensing information sources,” UNOSAT senior specialist Einar Bjorgo said by email. “The video camera also can be focused by the international space station’s onboard crew on particular areas, for example, dynamic flood situations or villages where landslides have been reported.”

By adding video to the mix of imagery sources already available, the U.N. Institute for Training and Research hopes to be able to shorten the time it takes the agency to provide information on disasters to humanitarian relief groups and to improve coordination among those groups, Bjorgo said.

Scott Larson, president of Vancouver-based UrtheCast, said company officials did not anticipate this type of application when they proposed installing cameras on the space station. “We always had a strong interest in maintaining educational and environmental components to UrtheCast, but this is outside of what we had envisioned,” Larson said by email. “We are thrilled and honored to be working with the United Nations.” Larson declined to comment on the value of the deal.

UrtheCast is working with its Russian partner RSC Energia to install a still camera and a video camera being built by the United Kingdom’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory on the space station’s Zvezda service module. The cameras are scheduled to be sent into orbit in early 2013, Larson said.

Through its website, UrtheCast plans to offer the public a continuous view of Earth by streaming imagery from the still camera. In addition, the company plans to focus the video camera, which will be mounted on a moveable platform outside the station, on events and activities on the ground.

 

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