The most powerful Earth-observing satellite ever constructed for commercial uses has launched from California aboard an Atlas 5 rocket.
The remote sensing satellite, said capable of imaging the home plate in a baseball diamond from an orbit 400 miles above the Earth, was launched from Vandenberg Air Force base.
The WorldView-3 satellite, opearted by DigitalGlobe, will make images with a resolution of 12 inches available to commercial companies.
Previously, the company could only sell images with a resolution better than 20 inches to the U.S. government.
"This is a level of resolution that was previously only possible from airplanes," DigitalGlobe founder Dr. Walter Scott says. "Which are much more expensive to operate and can only be in one place at one time."
DigitalGlobes images power the satellite views used by both the Google and Bing mapping programs.
"If you've looked up your house on Google Earth, the image taken from space on there was probably taken with one of the WorldView spacecraft," says Jeff Dierks of Ball Aerospace, the company that build the satellite for DigitalGlobe.
From an orbit over the Earth's poles, the 6,200-pound WorldView-3 will capture images of the entire globe as the world rotates beneath it, returning its images to Earth over a data downlink running at a speed of 1.2 gigabits a second, faster than terrestrial WiFi networks.
The spacecraft also features a control gyroscope system that will let controllers on the ground re-orient the satellite to make on-demand Earth observations.
At the head of the spacecraft is a telescope with a 3.6-foot mirror that sends the light it gathers to instruments that can record images in a number of spectral bands.
WorldView-3 joins five other satellites in a constellation owned and operated by Colorado-based DigitalGlobe, company spokeswoman Nancy Coleman said.
"At DigitalGlobe, we feel very strongly that WorldView-3 is not just an expansion of our constellation, but it's really a major step forward in our ability to fulfill our purpose of 'seeing a better world,'" she said.
The satellite will be able to gather images covering more than 260,000 square miles every day.
Government agencies, relief organizations, land developers, city planners and the gas and oil industry are among the kinds of customers for DigitalGlobe's satellite images.
The market for high-resolution satellite imagery is said to be worth $1.56 billion a year.
DigitalGlobe says it is already preparing WorldView-4 and plans to launch it sometime in 2016.