UK start-up to beam 4K video from space station

  • By Jonathan Amos
  • Science reporter
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A rare sight: cloudless England and Ireland

The UK start-up's ultra-high-definition cameras will then travel to the International Space Station.

A 4K system from SEN.COM will be attached to the front of the orbital outpost to capture what are expected to be some stunning views of Earth.

The London-based company is already streaming live video from a small satellite set to launch in 2022.

Boss Charles Black says he plans to expand the company's technology to other places, including the moon.

“Our goal is to bring a new way of looking at space, the Earth and the Moon,” he told BBC News.

“We want to put cameras in lunar orbit, on the lunar surface and on lunar rovers to film the astronauts as they return to the moon.

“We want to tell that story.”

The ISS cameras will be carried on the latest US space agency re-delivery mission.

At 16:55 local time (20:55 GMT), a SpaceX rocket carrying more than 2.5 tons of food, clothing, equipment and science experiments is set to launch from Florida.

Upon arrival, SEN's camera payload will be prepared by the station crew and placed on the Bartolomeo Deck, part of the outer structure attached to the European Columbus Science Module.

The large robotic CanadaArm-2 will perform scheduled maneuvers in May.

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The golden color of the Namibian desert in Africa

A camera looks straight at the horizon and captures the sunrise and sunset, the northern and southern lights.

A second camera is pointed straight down to observe what's happening on Planet Earth. The range is approximately 180 km by 240 km (110 mph by 150 mph). It can see smaller features up to 60 meters across.

As the station moves in darkness, the control software can adjust exposures so that city lights are visible.

A third camera will be deployed at the forward docking point to record the arrivals and departures of space capsules, the SpaceX Dragon ship and the soon-to-be-debuted Boeing Starliner.

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Smoke from Canadian wildfires

The plan is to stream 4K video – jumping between these cameras – more or less continuously. The data will come down through the European Space Agency's relay system, which bounces signals back to the ground via high-performance satellites above the space station.

You can get a feel for the type of video expected from the samples on this page. They were captured by SEN's ETV-A1 satellite, which has been operating at an altitude of 505 km for the past two years. More of these spacecraft are currently being assembled.

Again, this is a mix of wide and narrow angle shots.

The London-based company monetizes these productions, for example, working with film and television companies on documentaries.

The company also hopes to generate interest from news organizations that want to cover events in a different way, especially if those events are global. The wildfires in Canada last year are a good example. Seeing their fire tips and plumes of smoke gives a clear sense of how large an area has been burned.

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Flying over Interlaken and the Swiss Alps

SEN is not the first company to enter the “video from space” market, but Mr Black believes that success can be found by packaging the objects in the right way.

“Video from space is important and will be big business… because real-time video has the power to tell stories and can give people direct insights into what's happening in the same way that Google does,” he said.

“Google Earth has more than a billion downloads to view static images, so a real-time dataset about Earth tells the story of what's unfolding on Earth and in space right now, is fully searchable and uses artificial intelligence and augmented reality. Intelligence will be a mass data product for humanity.

“No one has addressed that market before, and that's what we're doing.”

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