The highest resolution commercial Earth imaging satellite to date, the GeoEye-1, was launched over the weekend on a Delta-II rocket that carried the Google logo alongside the GeoEye logo on its side.
The satellite was built as part of the US National Geospatial Agency's NextView programme under which the agency shared the costs of engineering, construction and launch of new generation satellites to support the commercial satellite imaging industry.
For the GeoEye-1 satellite the agency funded about $237m of the total $502m price tag. The agency has also committed to buying imaging data from the satellite for at least the first year and a half of operations.
Google will also be buying images taken by the satellite to supplement those it already uses in its Google Earth and Google Maps services. GeoEye-1, which was launched on Saturday, is capable of shooting 41cm black and white images and 1.65 metre color images. The measurements refer to the size of the smallest thing that it can see from its orbit 681km above the Earth's surface. US regulations mean the highest resolution images available to commercial customers will be at 50cm, but while not the best the satellite can offer, is still double that of the current best-resolution image available from GeoEye's Ikonos satellite.
In addition to Ikonos, GeoEye also operates the OrbView-2 satellite. A third satellite, OrbView-3, developed technical problems in March last year and was taken out of service.
Dulles, Virginia-based GeoEye will now put the satellite through a series on in-orbit tests before the first images are sold.