The US government has lifted restrictions on sharper satellite images

The US government has lifted a long-standing restriction that meant companies like Google and Microsoft didn’t have access to the most accurate pictures taken by imaging satellites. Until this week, satellite operators like DigitalGlobe were prevented by law from selling images to foreign or commercial organizations in which features smaller than 50 centimeters were visible. The restriction was meant to ensure that foreign powers didn’t get access to satellite images that were too good. But now that’s changed. DigitalGlobe said it has received approval from the U.S. Department of Commerce to sell sharper images to its clients. That immediately unlocks pictures from its GeoEye-1 satellite, with a resolution of 41 centimeters, and Worldview-2 satellite, at 46 centimeters, but much better pictures will soon be available.

Satellite imagery provider DigitalGlobe Inc said the U.S. government had approved its longstanding request to sell higher-resolution images, a move that could unlock $400 million in additional market opportunities for the company. DigitalGlobe, the only provider of high-resolution commercial satellite images in the United States, has received a license from the U.S. Commerce Department to start selling images with a resolution of 40 cm, up from 50 cm, effective immediately, its Chief Executive Jeffrey Tarr told Reuters. The Longmont, Colorado-based company will also be able to sell images with a resolution of 25 cm six months after it launches its Worldview 3 satellite around August 13 or 14. That will allow users to go from being able to identify a car to being able to identify its make. “It means we’ll be able to solve new kinds of problems, and as a result, grow our business,” Tarr said, adding that the approval would allow the company to compete with high-resolution imagery now collected by airplanes, about half of which is taken at a resolution of 30 cm or higher. The news could bolster the company’s shares, which have jumped since mid-April when the U.S. intelligence community backed the company’s request to sell sharper imagery. Its shares closed at $30.58 on Tuesday, up 17.5 percent from a year low of $26.02 on April 11.

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