Exquisite Views of Earth’s Cities Featured in First Ultra HD Videos from Space Station

A trio of Earth’s cities come to life like never before with today’s (June 17) publication of the first ever full-color, ultra High Definition full color videos captured by a new commercial camera installed aboard the International Space Station (ISS) that was developed and built by the Canadian-based company UrtheCast Corp.

See Boston, Barcelona and London up close and alive like you’ve never seen them before in the exquisite HD Vimeo videos featured above and below. Indeed the high def videos are “unparalled” says Urthecast.

“These are the the world’s first, full-color HD videos of Earth, filmed from the International Space Station (ISS),” said Urthecast. They have roughly one-meter resolution.

Be sure to click to enlarge the videos to get the full majesty of these cities from space.

Amazingly, you can even watch cars drive along freeways and shipping containers zipping along waterways in the video shot by Iris, UrtheCast’s Ultra HD video camera bolted to the exterior of the massive outpost that’s orbiting Earth at an altitude of some 250 miles (400 kilometers).

“Today, we are continuing our advancement towards democratizing the Earth Observation industry, making timely Earth video and imagery from space accessible to everyone,” explained Scott Larson, UrtheCast Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, in a statement.

In the lead video of the city of Boston, United States, above you get a glimpse of “fabled Fenway Park in HD” from the Iris camera aboard the ISS.
“Fenway, the oldest ball park in Major League Baseball and the home of the Boston Red Sox, sits aside the Charles River and the beautiful Emerald Necklace — a linear string of parks and rivers,” notes the Urthecast description.

UrtheCast’s goal is to provide “Ultra HD video and still imagery of Earth that will allow for monitoring of the environment, humanitarian relief, social events, agricultural land, etc,” says the company on its website.

The three videos from the Iris full color HD camera cover areas in each of the three cities ranging up to 1.19 x 0.67 miles (1.92 x 1.08 kms) “that is, as of yet, unparalleled.”

Here’s the full color HD video of London, United Kingdom:

Video caption: London, United Kingdom. Like peering out over the Thames River from your airplane window — see a Tube train depart, the London Eye spin, and cars circle Charing Cross. Captured from the International Space Station at roughly one-meter resolution, UrtheCast’s ‘First Light’ video suite features downtown London, England, showcasing the nucleus of one of Europe‘s most populous cities. Credit: UrtheCast

“With the ultimate goal of connecting the planet and highlighting what unites us all, we’re revealing a perspective of Earth from space that was previously reserved for a small few. By opening up our API to the web development community, we’re providing collaboration tools that will help people monitor, protect, and benefit our world and will lead to the democratization of Earth Observation imagery,” noted Larsen.

Here’s the full color HD video of Barcelona, Spain:

Barcelona, Spain. Colourful shipping containers zip around the Port of Barcelona in this ‘First Light’ UrtheCast video, captured at roughly one-meter resolution from the International Space Station. To the left of the frame, high atop Montjuïc hill, lies the site of the 1992 Olympics, settled against the shore of the Balearic Sea. Credit: UrtheCast

UrtheCast says it expects Iris to achieve Initial Operation Capability (IOC) status sometime this summer. Their medium-resolution, Theia, achieved IOC status in 2014 “and is actively filling orders for imagery and data.”

Both cameras were flown to the ISS on Russian spacecraft and installed on the exterior of the Russian segment by Russian cosmonauts.

Meanwhile, the human crews aboard the ISS continue to capture breathtaking imagery with hand held cameras.

So be sure to check out my popular story about the dazzling image of the Great Pyramids from the space station taken by NASA astronaut Terry Virts – the commander of Expedition 43. Virts just returned home from the station last week, as detailed in my story here.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Robot Arm Will Install New Earth-Facing Cameras On The Space Station

TORONTO, CANADA – Canada’s robotic Canadarm2 will install the next two Urthecast cameras on the International Space Station, removing the need for astronauts to go outside to do the work themselves, the company announced today (Sept. 30).

Urthecast plans to place two Earth-facing cameras on the United States side of the station (on Node 3) to add to the two they already have on the Russian Zvezda module. Technical problems with the cameras forced the Russians to do an extra spacewalk to complete the work earlier this year.

The company plans to make images and streaming video of its imagery available to the general public and interested paying customers. One of the Russian-side cameras is facing technical difficulties with pointing, but more equipment is scheduled to blast up to fix it on a Soyuz flight this fall. The camera should be ready by December, Urthecast said.

The International Space Station seen by a departing space shuttle in 2009. Credit: NASA
The International Space Station seen by a departing space shuttle in 2009. Credit: NASA

The U.S.-side cameras will be an improvement over the Russian-side ones, as they will be able to take imagery in radar and multiple other wavelengths simultaneously – a first in space, the company said.

The suite will include a medium-resolution camera perpetually pointing down, and a high-resolution video camera that can focus on a target ahead of the station and swivel for 60 to 90 seconds to keep it in the frame as the station moves.

Urthecast made the announcement at the International Astronautical Congress, which is being held in Toronto this week. The company is working in association with NanoRacks, which is shipping the payload to the station and handling the installation.

Once the cameras are working fully, the company expects revenues will flow from customers willing to pay for the imagery. So far they have been funded by private investment and also by a $57 million initial public offering on the Toronto Stock Exchange in 2013.

NASA-Russia Breach Will Not Affect UrtheCast Cameras On Space Station, Company Says

UrtheCast — the company aiming to bring high-definition pictures of Earth to the public — is among the exemptions after NASA severed most ties officially with Russia yesterday (April 2), the company said in a press release.

“It is business as usual for the company, as we continue the commissioning of our cameras on the International Space Station,” stated Wade Larson, UrtheCast President and chief operating officer.

“The ISS has long enjoyed a privileged position in international diplomacy and has survived unscathed during multiple international crises in recent years. In fact, we understand that the ISS has been nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. I think that says a lot.”

The news came around the same time that UrtheCast revealed its first pictures from its two cameras, which were installed by Russian spacewalkers in January following a failed attempt in December.

The new pictures reveal a few hundred square miles of Moneague, Jamaica and Santa Cruz de Mara, Venezuela, both taken on March 28.

“This is a pivotal moment for the company and for everyone who’s been a part of the vision that we set in motion in the fall of 2010. Our team has been working extremely hard to make certain that we reach this goal of democratizing a very powerful perspective on the planet,” stated Scott Larson, UrtheCast co-founder and chief executive officer.

The company is promising there will soon be a “near realtime” stream of Earth observations from the cameras’ perch on the International Space Station. Read more about the company’s plans in this past Universe Today story.

Following a leaked memo early yesterday, NASA released an official statement saying that it would sever most ties with Russia except for those related to International Space Station operations. The United States is among several countries condemning Russia’s decision to bring troops to Crimea a few weeks ago. The decision will likely affect several planetary science agreements with Russia, planetary scientist Barbara Cohen said on Twitter after the news was released.

UPDATE: Six-Hour Spacewalk Yields Success for UrtheCast Cameras

UPDATE: As of Tuesday morning (Eastern time), UrtheCast announced that telemetry was successfully received, “contrary to the online broadcast of the installation.” CEO Scott Larson added that his company “can now focus on the routine commissioning of the cameras in preparation for the unveiling of our Ultra HD, color video of Earth.” Below is the report from Monday.

A second crack at installing the UrtheCast cameras on the International Space Station also ran into data trouble, according to a press release from NASA, although the company involved with the cameras says it is still waiting for more information about the telemetry.

Expedition 38 spacewalkers Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy were again trying to put the cameras outside the station for UrtheCast to provide live views of Earth to subscribers. The cosmonauts’ first attempt on Dec. 27 showed telemetry problems, at which point the spacewalkers were instructed to bring the cameras back inside.

“The duo translated to the Zvezda service module and installed a high-resolution camera and a medium-resolution camera to capture Earth imagery. However, the medium resolution camera again experienced telemetry issues,” NASA stated.

On Twitter, however, UrtheCast stated that it is still awaiting confirmation on the status of the telemetry. We’ll keep you posted when they issue an update.

Kotov and Ryazanskiy spent six hours, eight minutes outside performing this and other routine tasks, marking the fourth spacewalk in about a month for Expedition 38. Besides the other Russian spacewalk in late December, two American astronauts ventured out close to Christmas to make a contingency swap on a faulty ammonia pump.

Watch Live As Russian Spacewalkers Try To Install Urthecast Cameras Again

Think of this as Camera Install, Take 2. Russian spacewalkers are going to take another crack at installing the high-definition Urthecast cameras after a glitch prevented them from working properly during an attempt in December.

“The expedition crew members performed troubleshooting on several cable connectors and now believes the problem has been solved,” NASA wrote in an update on Friday (Jan. 24).

Russian Expedition 38 cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy are expected to head outside at 9:10 a.m. EST (2:10 p.m. UTC) today (Monday) to make the second attempt. The cameras will be installed on the International Space Station’s Zvezda service module and provide real-time views of the Earth to subscribers. The cosmonauts will also pick up an experiment package on the hull of the module.

Check out NASA TV coverage of the events above starting at 8:30 a.m. EST (1:30 p.m. UTC).

Spacewalkers Battle Camera Glitch, Pull Back For Another Day

Customers eager to watch live, high-definition images of Earth may have to wait a bit longer. Two Russian spacewalkers were unable to get two UrtheCast cameras to function despite spending eight hours and seven minutes outside yesterday (Dec. 27) — the longest spacewalk in Russian history.

The cause of the problem is not known. Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy followed all the steps as instructed, but controllers did not see telemetry or data flowing from the cameras as expected. The spacewalkers tried unplugging and replugging cables and other steps to fix the problem, but were eventually told to take some pictures of the equipment and then bring the cameras back inside for more analysis.

“So it appears we have seen an unsuccessful attempt at bringing those two cameras to life,”said Rob Navias, NASA’s Mission Control commentator, in live remarks published on CBS.

“The exact cause of the problem is not known at this point. The Russian flight control team will spend some time, obviously, analyzing the data and trying to understand from the analysis of these photographs whether or not the problem lies in the electrical connectors themselves or in the cameras, which of course would be a more significant issue.”

In remarks on Twitter, UrtheCast said it was preparing an official statement to release. ” ‘Tis the nature of space tech,” the British Columbia-based company said in response to a comment talking about the challenges of doing high-tech work in space. The company also made a comment to Reuters saying there was a problem with camera connectivity.

NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins during a spacewalk Dec. 24, 2013 to replace a malfunctioning ammonia pump on the International Space Station. He and fellow Expedition 38 astronaut Rick Mastracchio took two spacewalks to perform the repair job. Credit: NASA
NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins during a spacewalk Dec. 24, 2013 to replace a malfunctioning ammonia pump on the International Space Station. He and fellow Expedition 38 astronaut Rick Mastracchio took two spacewalks to perform the repair job. Credit: NASA

UrtheCast plans to use the two cameras to broadcast live views of the Earth to paying customers (particularly government and private agencies), while also serving as an educational platform for young students. The company is working directly with Russian aerospace giant RSC Energia and has no agreement with NASA for the work, according to this past Universe Today report.

The longest spacewalk in history took place on March 11, 2001 and took eight hours, 56 minutes. NASA astronauts Jim Voss and Susan Helms were doing work on the International Space Station during the record-setting jaunt.

This was the third spacewalk in a week on station. The other two were performed by Rick Mastracchio and Mike Hopkins, who replaced an ammonia pump needed to keep one of the station’s two cooling loops functioning. Experiments are gradually coming back online, NASA said, after the equipment spent two weeks in a forced shutdown.

Watch Spacewalkers Friday As They Install Earth Livestream Camera On Station

For all you Earth observation geeks out there, we have some good news — two Russian astronauts are going to install a camera on Friday (Dec. 27) that will beam live images of Earth back to your browser.

The UrtheCast camera is the headline task for Expedition 38 astronauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy to perform, on top of installing a foot restraint and doing some equipment swapouts. This spacewalk, by the way, is not related in any way to the two successful contingency ones earlier this week to replace a faulty pump on station.

The spacewalk is supposed to start at 8 a.m. EST (1 p.m. UTC) and will be carried live on NASA Television, which you can view in the media player above or at this alternate link. The spacewalk is scheduled for seven hours, but could be longer or shorter as events arise.

“Imagine you have a nearly live Google Earth, but it isn’t four-year-old data – you have data that is being refreshed all the time, with videos coming down over interesting areas where interesting events are going on, showing you what is changing, what is going on,” said George Tyc, the chief technology officer at UrtheCast, in an interview with Universe Today earlier this year.

“What we really hope to pull off is to change the paradigm, get the everyday person interacting and seeing the data coming down from space to see the Earth and how it is evolving over time in a way that isn’t available right now.”

Read more details about UrtheCast in this past Universe Today story.

NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins during his first spacewalk on Dec. 21, 2013 during Expedition 38. He tweeted the next day: "Wow . . .  can't believe that is me yesterday. Wish I could find the words to describe the experience, truly amazing." Credit: NASA
NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins during his first spacewalk on Dec. 21, 2013 during Expedition 38. He tweeted the next day: “Wow . . . can’t believe that is me yesterday. Wish I could find the words to describe the experience, truly amazing.” Credit: NASA

It’s been a busy week for spacewalkers on station as Rick Mastracchio and Mike Hopkins successfully replaced a pump that shut down two weeks ago and crippled one of the station’s two cooling loops for regulating the temperature of systems on station. With that work completed Tuesday (Dec. 24), a NASA update today (Dec. 26) said systems are slowly coming back online.

“Early on Christmas Day, the heat exchangers for the Destiny laboratory, the Harmony and Tranquility nodes and the Japanese Kibo laboratory were reintegrated to enable experiments racks and other systems affected by the partial Cooling Loop A shutdown Dec. 11 to come back on line,” NASA stated.

“The Columbus laboratory heat exchanger will remain down until the European Space Agency, at its own request, conducts that module’s integration next week when personnel return from the holiday.”

UrtheCast: Cameras for Live Video Views of Planet Earth To Launch Nov. 25

A Canadian camera system aiming to provide near-realtime video views of Earth is readying for a launch from Kazakhstan.

If all goes well, the UrtheCast dual camera system will blast off in a Progress supply ship on Nov. 25, 2013.

This will be the world’s first ever high definition, live-streaming video platform of planet Earth from the International Space Station.

“Imagine you have a nearly live Google Earth, but it isn’t four year old data – you have data that is being refreshed all the time, with videos coming down over interesting areas where interesting events are going on, showing you what is changing, what is going on,” said George Tyc, the Chief Technology Officer at UrtheCast, in an interview with Universe Today earlier this year. “What we really hope to pull off is to change the paradigm, get the everyday person interacting and seeing the data coming down from space to see the Earth and how it is evolving over time in a way that isn’t available right now.”

Last week at the Canadian Space Society Summit, UrtheCast co-founder Wade Larson explained the camera setup will take place in phases, with Phase 1 of the project having two cameras facing the ground, with one having a fixed gaze and the other one featuring maneuverability to points of interest. These should be installed on the station sometime in December 2013, Larson said, with data coming in the first quarter of 2014.

The company’s aim is to make Earth video data more accessible to individuals and schoolchildren, who would log in on UrtheCast’s website, as well as the traditional customers of government and private companies. Additionally, a recent partnership agreement with the UN will see them offer real-time information on dynamic situations such as floods and mass movements of people during humanitarian disasters. They will also be integrating the data with live social media feeds as well as opening up their API for app developers.

The UK covered in snow, as seen on Dec. 8, 2010. Credit: NASA's Aqua satellite.
The UK covered in snow, as seen on Dec. 8, 2010. Credit: NASA’s Aqua satellite.

Current sponsors on the project from UrtheCast (pronunced “Earthcast”) include Roscosmos, MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, the Discovery Channel, Energia, Unosat and RAL Space, Larson added.

The UrtheCast team is working in an exclusive relationship with the Russian Aerospace giant RSC Energia (NASA is not involved at all), and cosmonauts on board the ISS will install the cameras. The video data of the Earth will be down-linked to ground stations around the planet and then displayed in near real time on the UrtheCast web platform.

“We had to meet quite a strict set of requirements that the cameras are safe for cosmonauts and astronauts,” Tyc said, “as there can’t be any toxic substances because they will be inside the ISS before they are installed.”

Tyc added that it will take two spacewalks to do the full installation. The cameras are expected to last at least five years, and Tyc expects them to be up there even longer. “We’re looking at putting additional cameras up there for a second generation, and we expect to be up there for the life of the station, really,” he said.

Tyc said he thinks the social media aspect of UrtheCast will be a big part of the entire experience.

“For example, in a natural disaster or big event we’ll also incorporate videos from the ground of things going on, to experience an event in a far different way than you can now,” he said. “And it’s not being filtered through a media agency — it is what it is – and people can draw their own conclusions and add their own voice.”

Tyc said that if the concept takes off, they think this will be a shift in how people can interact with others around the world. “It could be a feeling of the Overview effect – people who go to space are have a completely changed perspective – we’re trying to bring a little bit of that to the ground,” he said.

The team said the name UrtheCast is a bit of a double entendre, as it is pronounced like “EarthCast” but also looks like “You Are the Cast” since it will be live views of planet Earth.

Find out more at the UrtheCast website.


Nancy Atkinson also contributed to this report.