UrtheCast's HD Video From Space Station: Real Product or Hyped Vaporware?

©UrtheCast

ISS video.

A Canadian company called UrtheCast has begun to claim that it is going to place the first live HD video feed on the International Space Station in a few months.  Despite all of their PR and hype, NASA isn't so sure that there actually is a real product and service - as advertised by UrtheCast.

The UrtheCast website claims: "UrtheCast (pronounced "EarthCast") is a company created around a unique vision: to provide the world's first ever, live HD video feed of Earth from space. Working in an exclusive relationship with world-famous Russian Aerospace giant RSC Energia, UrtheCast is building, launching, installing, and operating two cameras on the Russian module of the International Space Station. Starting in mid-2012, video data of the Earth collected by our cameras will be down-linked to ground stations around the planet and then displayed in near real time on the UrtheCast web platform or distributed directly to our exclusive partners and customers."

On their site, Urthecast link to a press release from 4 November 2011 that claims that the company has"signed an agreement with the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos). Under the terms of this agreement, the Russian Federal Space Agency has committed to providing the prelaunch preparation, space launch and delivery, installation, and maintenance of two UrtheCast cameras on the Russian module of the International Space Station (ISS). This agreement is a continuation of the exclusive agreement signed with RSC Energia, who currently acts as the prime contractor on ISS related projects." Not to dispute what the company claims to have signed, but there is not a "russian module" but rather many Russian modules that comprise the RUssian segment of the ISS.  

NASA sources question whether there is actually an agreement in place between Urthecast and the Russians to host the camera payload or to allocate the significant amount of bandwidth - on a steady basis - to download the camera's data. (Urthecast claims "3-5 frames per second totaling 2.5 terabytes of single meter resolution imagery daily" will be provided).  NASA sources also doubt that the claimed 1 meter resolution from this camera system will ever be possible - for a variety of reasons.  According to NASA, UrtheCast's camera (as designed) will actually take high resolution still images - not video. UrtheCast then manipulates these still images back on Earth such that they look like video.  As such, the claim that this will be "the world's first ever, live HD video feed of Earth from space" is therefore not true and somewhat misleading. 

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