Baltimore to star in giant photo op Satellite: At midmorning today, detailed photographs will be taken from space and sold later on the Internet.

March 26, 1998|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

Comb it if you've got it.

A Russian satellite will fly over Baltimore about 10 a.m. today, looking down and taking pictures.

It's part of a Russian-U.S. venture to assemble a digital atlas of the United States, and market it through the Internet.

By mid-May, if all goes well, those with Internet access will be able to log on, view and order detailed black-and-white satellite photos of their favorite Charm City neighborhood, the whole city or any other garden spot in the joint venture's growing archive.

The system uses 1980s Soviet spy technology powerful enough to see things 6 1/2 feet across.

"I can see cars, count them in the parking lot, and I can see hedges. I can't see people" -- or anyone having a bad hair day, said John T. Hoffman, president of Aerial Images Inc. of Raleigh, N.C. He called it the highest resolution satellite imagery available commercially.

"None of our competitors have this level of resolution, and they're not on the Internet. That's the new twist we brought to the marketing side of this," he said.

Aerial Images is working with Sovinformsputnik, a branch of the Russian space agency, which is seeking ways to make money from former Soviet satellite technology.

The satellite that will scan Baltimore today was launched from Kazakstan on Feb. 18. Its orbit brings it within 125 miles of Earth during its photographic passes. Each pass will cover a swath about 100 miles wide.

Weather permitting, Hoffman said, today's flyover also should produce pictures of Oakland and Santa Barbara, Calif., and Oklahoma City. Tomorrow it will snap Washington, Norfolk, Va., San Francisco, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston.

The satellite is to return to Earth with its film next month.

Three more photo missions are planned for launch during the next two years. Each flight will add more U.S. and key foreign cities to the venture's data archive.

The pictures will be developed and digitized by Kodak Earth Imaging, and they will be marketed on the Internet by TerraServer, at

Satellite imagery has been available commercially for years. It has been used extensively by scientists and government planners, and the most striking images have been sold to the public as art.

With low prices and easy access, Hoffman said, "We are trying to take it out of the realm of science and art."

The joint venture's target audience includes small- and medium-sized businesses, real estate agents and developers and others who might otherwise turn to traditional aerial photography costing hundreds of dollars.

TerraServer's prices are expected to range from $8 delivered by computer, up to $40 for a poster-sized, photo-quality image delivered by mail -- cheap enough, Hoffman said, for a homeowner to use in a local zoning fight.

"We think there's enormous potential for this out there," he said.

Pub Date: 3/26/98

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