Based in Mountain View, Calif., Skybox Imaging has plans to launch two dozen sub-$50 million satellites built using off-the-shelf electronics. This image of Perth, Australia was sent back from SkySat-1.

Skybox launched its first satellite, SkySat-1, Nov. 21 from Yasny, Russia aboard a Dnepr rocket. Pictured: another image of Perth.

SkySat-1 also captured this image of Abu Dhabi.

Another image, this one of Somalia, sent back from SkySat-1.

Proof That Cheaper Satellites Still Can Take Incredibly Detailed Photos Of Earth

Military communications satellites can cost billions. Skybox Imaging's satellites cost less than $50 million and are still producing great images. Here's the proof.

In the world of satellites, cheap is relative. While $50 million is a hefty price tag for most startups to stomach, it's almost chump change compared with military communications satellites, which can cost upwards of a billion dollars each.

Based in Mountain View, Calif., Skybox Imaging has plans to change the nature of this field with sub-$50 million satellites built using off-the-shelf electronics. Skybox launched its first satellite, SkySat-1, Nov. 21 from Yasny, Russia aboard a Dnepr rocket, and it began capturing its first images within hours of the payload door opening. Skybox released four of those photos Wednesday: two of Perth, Australia; one overlooking Abu Dhabi; and another of Somalia's coast.

The image quality exceeded Skybox's early expectations. Even in the photos' untuned and uncalibrated state, the company said it is able to discern details, such as car windshields, varying car colors, and road markings in the Perth images. Given the cost-effectiveness of these satellites, the idea is to eventually launch 24 of them into space to provide comprehensive coverage orbiting Earth, beaming back images close to real time.

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  • Alistair Riddoch

    When the Boston Marathon got bombed, it was photography that provided the clues that led to the capture of the terrorists that planted the bomb. Real-time imagery from space could have a similar affect on international affairs. Cheers, Alistair Riddoch