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US government signs off on sale of ultra-high resolution satellite imagery

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DigitalGlobe — one of the world's major suppliers of satellite imagery — announced this week that it's been granted permission by the US Department of Commerce to sell the highest-resolution photos that it can muster out of its constellation of five eyes in the sky. The government has historically limited public sales of satellite photos to a resolution of 50 centimeters (19.7 inches) out of national security concerns, but DigitalGlobe has been pushing for a change to the policy for some time. At present, the policy change is limited by the technical capabilities of the company's highest-resolution satellite in orbit — GeoEye-1, which can drill down to 41 centimeters — but a new launch later this year means that 25-centimeter photography will hit the market a few months after that.

Many of DigitalGlobe's customers are already government agencies which are unaffected by the rule change, but notably, Google counts itself as a client. In other words, it may not be very long before we can identify individual cars in Google Maps. Reuters estimates that DigitalGlobe could end up raking in an additional $400 million in revenue thanks to the rule change.