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God’s Eye Stays Shut

July 1, 1999

Space Imaging’s ambition to be the first company to offer high-resolution satellite images commercially (see “God’s Eyes for Sale”) suffered a setback in April when the company’s IKONOS-1 satellite failed to reach orbit. The Athena II rocket’s payload fairing-the nose cone that protects the satellite during launch-failed to separate as planned several minutes after liftoff. The fairing’s added mass kept the satellite from gaining enough speed to reach orbit, and the satellite burned up as it re-entered the atmosphere.

Space Imaging has a backup twin satellite, IKONOS-2, which the Thornton, Colo.-based company hopes to launch as early as July. “Although our business plan will be delayed,” CEO John Copple says, “we are confident that with the launch of IKONOS-2 we will achieve our goals.”

That delay, though,may enable competitors to catch up.Orbimage of Dulles, Va., and EarthWatch of Longmont, Colo., are planning separate launches of high-resolution imaging satellites later this year. All three outfits plan to offer satellite images with resolutions as sharp as one meter, more than twice as crisp as what is commercially available today.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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