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How Urthecast lets you film your party from space -- and save the rainforests too

Urthecast will tell you when the International Space Statio and its cameras are passing overhead to film your event.


DUBLIN -- I can see my house from here: Urthecast is broadcasting video from the International Space Station so you can film your proposal, wedding or party from orbit. And more seriously, it will help you save the rainforest too.

Urthecast is a Canadian company that has installed a 1.1-meter resolution video camera and a 5.5-meter medium resolution still camera on the ISS, continually snapping the earth below as they orbit. Currently broadcasting in near-real time at Ustream, Urthecast will soon open up its platform in beta to offer satellite imagery on phones, tablets and online. Speaking at technology conference Web Summit in Ireland, Urthecast founder Scott Larson describes some of the ways in which Urthecast will "democratise" satellite imagery.

Urthecast founder Scott Larson shows footage of the Northern Lights shot from the International Space Station at Web Summit 2014 in Dublin, Ireland. Rich Trenholm/CNET

"I talk to a lot of astronauts", says Larson, "and they all say going to space changes them." From space, you just see one planet, with no countries and no borders, and Larson wants to "take the view astronauts have and share it with others."

Urthecast cameras shoot 5 million square kilometres of the earth every day -- as the ISS circles the planet sixteen times a day it's essentially capturing an endlessly scrolling 40km-wide panoramic image. That adds up to 200GB of video per day, which is stored forever.

Next to go up to the space station is a radar camera that can see through clouds at night.

The ISS cameras travel the globe covering a strip of the planet between 51° to -51° latitude, which unfortunately cuts off northern parts of North America, Europe and the UK. But if you're under the path and you want a video from space, you'll be able to follow a location the way you would follow a friend on Facebook or Twitter. Urthecast will give you a time telling you when the ISS will next be overhead, and if you time things right, a few hours later you'll have video of your event filmed from space to edit and share with friends.

Individuals won't be picked out by the cameras, but Larson suggests as an example that a group in white t-shirts will be visible.

If you're sceptical about the detail the cameras can capture, Larson also describes how the cameras can take pictures of farms and tell if they're growing wheat or hay, or identify the paint on a tank in the desert.

On a less frivolous note, the cameras will help you join in the fight against deforestation. Urthecast has joined forces with DeforestACTION's Earthwatchers programme to assign you an area of 10 square kilometres of rainforest to monitor, tracking changes and informing local authorities of deforestation.

Other uses include watching shipping and comparing the movements of ships to their Automatic Identification System beacons, the transponders that track and identify a marine vessel. If a ship doesn't have an AIS beacon or is using someone else's, it's a good sign some piracy is going down.