Tag Archives: UrtheCast

Problems with Russia force private company to deemphasize ISS cameras

UrtheCast has been forced to write off almost $8 million because it has not been able fully use its two cameras installed on the Russian half of ISS.

The Vancouver-based company said its was writing off some of the cameras’ value because of strained relations with their Russian hosts, who recently approached UrtheCast with a request to renegotiate their deal. Russian cosmonauts installed two UrtheCast cameras on the exterior of space station in 2014. The medium-resolution camera, called Theia, captures 50-kilometer swaths of multispectral imagery sharp enough to discern features 5-meters across. The high-resolution camera, called Iris, records ultra-high-def-quality, full-color video of the Earth and still images at a resolution of one meter per pixel. Iris entered service only last year due to technical issues.

Wade Larson, UrtheCast’s co-founder and chief executive, told investors during a Nov. 10 conference call that tensions between Russia and the U.S. and its allies are spilling over into UrtheCast’s agreement with the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, and Russia’s lead space station contractor RSC Energia. “There’s been some geopolitical challenges that have influenced this relationship and candidly … that has impacted our ability to task these cameras operationally,” Larson said.

In the long run, this is very bad for the Russians. It shows them to be an unreliable business partner, which will increasingly limit their ability to attract business from outside Russia.

UrtheCast releases its first commercial videos of Earth

The competition heats up: UrtheCast has released high resolution videos of three Earth cities taken from its camera on ISS.

Take a look. The cameras are quite successful in capturing the motion of vehicles on highways and road, which is amazing considering the vibrations that ISS experiences merely from astronaut movements.

The company plans to offer the imagery in several tiers, from a free video feed on its website to an API that will allow customers, including corporations, governments and individuals, to purchase imagery data from its database or make real-time requests for a look at a given spot on the earth. The cameras scan the ground under the ISS, which tracks the earth between about 51 degrees north and south latitude.

UrtheCast has released its first image of Earth, taken from one of its cameras on ISS.

UrtheCast has released its first image of Earth, taken from one of its cameras on ISS.

The UrtheCast (pronounced Earth-Cast) system, which was installed (not without trouble) on the International Space Station at the end of 2013, is composed of two cameras. The Theia “medium resolution” camera took this shot; the full picture has a resolution of 3200×8000, or about 25 megapixels. The high-resolution device, which will capture video, is still being calibrated.

Eventually UrtheCast plans to provide free, constant, near-real-time video of the globe from far above — that is, when it’s not being rented out to parties interested in a quick satellite snap of an area. Powerful cameras able to respond quickly to such requests are in high demand by everyone from law enforcement to disaster-relief coordinators.

In a spacewalk earlier this week, two Russian astronauts on ISS successfully installed the commercial UrtheCast cameras.

In a spacewalk earlier this week, two Russian astronauts on ISS successfully installed the commercial UrtheCast cameras.

The cameras cost $17-million and are capable of beaming down images and high-definition video from the Russian part of the ISS to UrtheCast, a small Vancouver company that struck a deal with the Russian space agency to have its devices blasted into space on a Soyuz rocket and installed in exchange for imagery captured over Russia.

There had been a problem installing these cameras on an earlier spacewalk last month, so this was the second attempt.

Once operational, these cameras will also provide a continuous and free live feed of the Earth for anyone who wishes to view it.

The company for the high resolution cameras that the Russian astronauts were unable to install on ISS during their spacewalk last week has issued an update.

The company for the high resolution cameras that the Russian astronauts were unable to install on ISS during their spacewalk last week has issued an update.

The installation of the cameras proceeded according to plan and without incident. During a spacewalk, Russian cosmonauts were able to transport the cameras to their mounting position and install them quickly and efficiently. However, soon after installation, the Mission Control Centre (MCC) outside of Moscow was unable to receive any data from either camera (contrary to what was reported during the live transmission of the spacewalk). Without this data, engineers in the MCC were not able to confirm that the cameras were receiving the power necessary to allow them to survive the temperature fluctuations of the space environment. As a consequence, senior technical personnel from UrtheCast and RSC Energia (UrtheCast’s Russian partner) jointly decided that the safest and most prudent course of action was to uninstall the cameras and bring them back inside the ISS to be reinstalled at a later date, once the data transmission problem has been solved.

UrtheCast’s Chief Technology Officer, Dr. George Tyc, was present at the MCC throughout the operation, along with the Company’s Chief Engineer for Space Systems, Mr. Greg Giffin. Said Dr. Tyc, “The fact the neither camera could communicate with the MCC strongly suggests that the problem lies inside the ISS and it is not a problem with the cameras or external cables. This kind of issue has been encountered before on the ISS and can be fixed in the near-term. Bringing the cameras back inside to be installed another day was simply the right engineering decision.”

No word on what caused the problem, but as this commercial project is being done in partnership with the Russians and the Russians are whom the company is working to solve the technical problem it was almost certainly on the Russian portion of ISS.