Moving to position itself to meet growing commercial demand for high-resolution satellite imagery, DigitalGlobe awarded Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. a contract to build the WorldView 2 satellite, DigitalGlobe announced Jan. 2.
Scheduled to be placed into orbit in 2008, WorldView 2 would become the third satellite in DigitalGlobe’s constellation, joining the existing QuickBird satellite and WorldView 1, also under construction at Ball Aerospace and scheduled to be launched later this year.
“We have seen significant growth in demand for the use of content-rich geographic applications on the Internet and within the enterprise applications that have ignited the demand for digital satellite imagery in the commercial and government markets,” Jill Smith, DigitalGlobe president and CEO, said in a statement. “WorldView 2 will enable DigitalGlobe to collect almost five times the imagery of any current commercial system, and is a significant step in our strategic plan to meet increased market demand for geospatial data.”
The announcement was welcomed, and not unexpected by investors, said analyst Ed Jurkevics of Chesapeake Analytics Corp. “For DigitalGlobe, it’s an important thing for the longevity of the firm,” he said. “These companies need a constellation of birds to meet the collection demands. As resolution improves, you have wide swaths of demands” from customers including United States and foreign governments, quasi-governmental customers and a growing commercial market.
“This kicks them into a normal mode where they maintain a constellation up there: It’s continuing operations, launching every other year, coming into a normal mode to satisfy both markets and maintain a long-term constellation,” Jurkevics said.
WorldView 2 will collect imagery with resolution of 0.5 meters, an improvement over WorldView 1’s 0.6-meter capability, said Chuck Herring, DigitalGlobe’s director of marketing communications. The QuickBird satellite, also manufactured by Ball Aerospace, provides data with a ground resolution of 0.81 meters.
The more noticeable impact of WorldView 2 will be in its capabilities and collection capacity, said Herring. The satellite will operate at an altitude above 800 kilometers, offering better target selection flexibility. WorldView 2’s agility, larger on-board storage and greater communication downlink capabilities will provide significantly more imaging capacity, enabling DigitalGlobe to collect up to 950,000 square kilometers of imagery daily while also allowing direct tasking and downlinking of imagery to customer locations. WorldView 2 also will have improved spectral capabilities, offering eight bands instead of the industry standard of four, he added.
“In general, we’re focused on two major strategies: capacity and being able to image on a regular basis, while meanwhile meeting all demand along with access to get to our imagery. We feel we’re going forward in a capacity standpoint, and this puts us in a very strong position,” Herring said.
WorldView 2 will be the only next-generation system yet to be built independent of U.S. government financing, DigitalGlobe said, though Herring would not divulge financial terms of the deal.
Jurkevics said the latest satellite would be less expensive to build than WorldView 1 and GeoEye’s GeoEye-1 satellite, which were partially funded by the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), an agency within the U.S. Department of Defense. “WorldView 1 and GeoEye each cost around $500 million with infrastructure, or to process the whole enchilada,” he said. “WorldView 2 will be somewhat less in cost, probably around $400 million.”
While the government will not help fund the development of WorldView 2, it will be more than eager to take advantage of the satellite’s capacity, said Jurkevics. “I would expect the NGA to consume a significant amount of data, along with Asian and perhaps Middle East governments — agencies using them in lieu of their own reconnaissance capability — or perhaps an Hitachi or someone in Japan who has a deal to supply them as a middle man,” said Jurkevics. “The third [customer] will be the commercial market for businesses and consumers through things like Google Earth.”