The basic service on offer will be free – with users able to log into the site and see live or archived images and video of anywhere on Earth. With the ISS orbiting the planet around 15 times a day, sooner or later it’ll be above something you want to look at.
“You can enter in your address and find out when it was above there last,” says Larson. “And at the same time, because we know where the space station is, you can enter in your address and find out when it’s going to be above you next. And so you can go outside, you can hold your event, your wedding, your sports day around when it’s going to be imaged from space.”
However, as the cameras won’t be able to see through cloud, arranging your wedding pictures around the orbit of the ISS is something of a gamble. UrtheCast plans to give software developers free access to its code, allowing them to develop new applications such as games or utilities. But how does Larson hope to make any money?
“The goal isn’t to make a tonne of money, the goal is to try to break even,” he says. “We’re talking with seven or eight different companies around the world who buy and sell Earth observation data, and they use it to track crops or monitor cities [for example]…and we’ll just enter that market with our data.” There’s also the potential for broadcasters or websites to buy time on the moveable camera to track live news, sports games or events.
The cameras are due to be completed in the next few months and will be transported to the ISS on an unmanned Russian proton supply ship early next year. Cosmonauts are in training to maneuver the bulky equipment into the station from the capsule and for the space walk necessary to install the cameras on the outside structure.
For the engineers at RAL Space, more used to building satellites, the work has proved a welcome change. “It certainly makes it more interesting for a pub discussion,” says Tosh. “Rather than saying ‘I’m an optical design engineer…okay I’ll go and talk to someone else’…now it’s going on the space station and they’ll be real live video, it makes it much more exciting for everyone.”