INNOVATION January-February 2014

f ea t ures

September 2010, they founded UrtheCast and formed a partnership with Energia, a corporate giant that employs over 20,000 people. They’ve raised $70 million to date, including $10 million last December through a share offering, and UrtheCast is now listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange. They’ve contracted with a number of companies to design and build the cameras. Much of the work was done by Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL), a government-owned British research lab that has built over 200 space imaging cameras, while engineers at MDA produced the camera electronics and compression software. However, UrtheCast has built an impressive team to manage the project, drive the technical design, and work closely with RAL, MDA, and other sub-contractors. The team includes professional project managers, systems, hardware and software engineers, and Web/IT infrastructure developers. As Chief Technology Officer, Tyc leads the team and is responsible for implementation of the entire system. He works with investors and partners such as Energia, as well as the UrtheCast executives to set strategic direction. Occasionally, he gets immersed in technical details, which, he says, is still the fun part. The first camera will be locked into one position and will constantly capture 50 kilometre-wide medium-resolution strips of the Earth’s surface that stretch from 52 degrees latitude north to 52 degrees latitude south, or roughly from Edmonton, Alberta, to Lima, Peru. “This band is where most of the world’s population lives,” says Tyc. The images generated by the camera will be transferred to a data handling unit inside the space station and when the ISS passes over a satellite ground station—a dish five to six metres in diametre—the data will be downloaded in batches of three to five gigabytes at a time. From there, the data will be transferred to MCC in Russia and then on to UrtheCast’s Richmond headquarters or UrtheCast teams based in either San Francisco or St. Louis for processing. The processing procedure means that individual images, representing strips of the Earth’s surface some 50 kilometres wide, must be melded together in a cohesive fashion for the benefit of those who visit the UrtheCast website. Viewers will then be

The high-res camera with a telescope for a lens, captures images representing areas of the earth’s surface measuring 3.3 by 5 kilometres at a time.

The medium-res camera will constantly capture 50 kilometre-wide strips of the Earth’s surface that stretch from 52 degrees latitude north to 52 degrees latitude south.

A sample image similar to the material the UrtheCast camera will produce. The cameras are capable of zooming in or out even further to capture events in great detail.


J AN UA R Y/ F E B R UA R Y 2 014

i n n o v a t i o n

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