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If you like using Google Maps and Google Earth in your applications, you're about to get better access to imagery.

GeoEye Inc. of Dulles, Va., launched last Saturday a satellite intended to provide high-resolution black-and-white and multispectral imagery. GeoEye and Google announced in August that Google had purchased the online commercial rights to all the images.

Currently, Google uses imagery from another GeoEye satellite, IKONOS, but GeoEye-1 offers higher resolution -- .41m for monochromatic compared to 1m on IKONOS. However, due to U.S. security restrictions, a resolution of only .5m can be offered commercially. In other words, the images will show something on the ground that's only half a meter long.

Imagery from satellites such as GeoEye-1 lets scientists literally get the "big picture" of what's happening in large-scale environments, such as weather and pollution. In addition, by looking at imagery using different spectrums, such as infrared, scientists can also study pollution, amount of water in an area, and changes in vegetation such as deforestation. Not to mention, law enforcement personnel can use it to bust marijuana-growing operations.

The $502 million satellite, originally scheduled to launch in April, also helps improve the state of commercial remote sensing in the U.S. Some imagery applications depended on the LANDSAT satellites, but LANDSAT 5 was taken offline due to battery problems and LANDSAT 7 was having data reliability problems -- making it difficult for commercial users to gain access to environmental-scale imagery.

At the same time, the Bush administration has been expanding its use of satellite imagery for intelligence and surveillance operations -- imagery to which commercial organizations did not have access.

GeoEye-1 take digital images of the Earth from 423 miles (681 kilometers),moving at a speed of about 4.5miles (7 kilometers) per second. Imagery from the new satellite is scheduled to be available in about two months.

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