Thinking Tech

Video: space station's streaming webcam to let users spy on earthlings

Video: space station's streaming webcam to let users spy on earthlings

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Little known UrtheCast is one-upping Google by providing customizable real-time, streaming HD video views of Earth.

When it first arrived, Google Earth's concept of letting internet users take terrestrial high-resolution snapshots from space was quite revolutionary. So you figure the logical next step would be an upgrade to something like live streaming high-definition video, right?

It's now six years later and the satellite-assisted program has a few more bells and whistles like the ground-level "street view" feature and Google Ocean, which allows users to explore the ocean floor via 3D rendering -- but still, no video.

Now, UrtheCast, a lesser-known Canadian-based company, has decided to pick up where the internet search giant has left off and provide customizable real-time, streaming views of Earth. The company has teamed up with Rutherford Appleton Labs and the Russian Space Agency and to install a pair of HD video cameras aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The project is scheduled to launch on June 28th and cameras will begin beaming footage in the spring of 2012 -- which is when the real fun begins.

Here's a preview of what users can expect from the Urthecast webstreams:

  • The ability to track the location of the Space Station and anticipate when it will pass over a particular geographic location.
  • The option to search for videos of a specific location, type, or theme and will have the ability to interact with the HD video feed from the UrtheCast servers.
  • Camera controls that allows for in and out zooms, ability to virtually steer the camera from side to side, rewind, and fast forward on areas and sites of interest.

The cameras, built by UK based Rutherford Appleton Laboratories, are each designed to carry out different functions. One camera will offer medium resolution three color views with a swath of 45 kilometers and a resolution of 5.5 meters. For high-resolution views, the another camera serves up a frame rate of 3.25 frames per second with a resolution that is comparable to Google Earth and should allow users to see man-made objects and groups of people.

The RSC Energia will deliver UrtheCast's cameras and handle the necessary maintenance and transfer of the data.

According to the company's promotional video, users will be able to watch things like "political, environmental and sporting events at potentially any given time."

Now that's my kind of people watching.

Check out the promo video:

(via press release)

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Tuan Nguyen

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Tuan C. Nguyen is a freelance science journalist based in New York City. He has written for the U.S. News and World Report, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC News, AOL, Yahoo! News and LiveScience. Formerly, he was reporter and producer for the technology section of ABCNews.com. He holds degrees from the University of California Los Angeles and the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure