Capturing the World in High Definition: The Revolution of PIXEL Precision

The Dawn of a New Era in Earth Observation

Of all the planet-viewing satellite imaging startups flocking into the marketplace, few have such a perfectly turned phrase as a name, or a picture as keen as a mission: Albedo, with its ‘vision sharp enough to reshape how we see the Earth’. Albedo’s goal is to launch its first satellite, named Clarity, into very low Earth orbit (VLEO). It will be a crucial milestone in commercial Earth observation.

Albedo's Ascent: From Vision to VLEO

On board SpaceX’s Transporter-13 mission, with a launch no earlier than February 2025, Albedo’s Clarity satellite is as high-res as they come. Already with seven paying customers, from the satellite imagery broker SkyFi to the German industrial giant Open Grid Europe, Albedo is far from business as usual. Equipped with a large-aperture telescope and sophisticated robotics, Clarity is set to represent a giant step for satellite technology — a truth that becomes evident when you talk to Albedo’s chief executive officer Topher Haddad, a former technologist at Google and HSLDA. ‘We’re pushing the aggressive end of schedule, but we think that our team can make it happen.’

A PIXEL Revolution: Defining Clarity in Earth Imagery

It is not just the scale of the project that we find interesting about Albedo, however, but its potential to change the nature of Earth-imaging offerings: 10-centimetre-per-pixel imagery, for the masses (at least the kind of masses that the major credit-card issuers approve), access to a resolution that’s still the preserve of US defence and intelligence elites. At this resolution (that is, each pixel is equivalent to 10x10 cm of the Earth’s surface), everything you are seeing is more detailed than what is currently available for the best of the commercial optical-imaging offerings.

Redefining Orbits: VLEO's Strategic Advantage

Unleashing its inventive force beyond mere technology, Albedo’s satellites skim the sky much lower than those with equivalent resolution capabilities, hugging the much denser Earth in the radically closer VLEO. By relocating its satellites to such a close proximity, Albedo’s effort embodies a truly novel approach: not only is it reimagining the satellite concept itself, but each VLEO satellite will be approximately the size of a refrigerator – and it will use highly efficient electric propulsion to circumvent the forces of atmospheric drag.

Engineering Excellence: Beyond the Atmosphere

Albedo has another innovative feature: its solar panels are not deployed in two wings, as most spacecraft do. This decision to minimise cross-sectional area is just one example of how Clarity was designed from the ground up, based on what could help it survive. ‘We are also very fortunate to have Kathryn Tobey on our board, as she brings tremendous experience and insight about this; she was previously the director of high-tech national security programmes at Boeing,’ Posner says.

A New Frontier in PIXEL Perfection

Standing at the cusp of this new satellite era, Albedo’s transformation from a vision on a whiteboard to a satellite in space points to a tremendous leap forward in earth imaging capabilities. As Clarity enters orbit, the world is poised to see Earth as it has never been seen before.

Understanding PIXELS: The Building Blocks of Clarity

At the core of the Albedo innovation, and the essence of this technological evolution, lies the pixel. A picture element, pixel, is the smallest physical area of a digital image or graphic that is represented in digital displays, whether directly as a point or a component of a small shape like a square, dot or line. For satellite imagery, as for Albedo’s Clarity, pixels map out a specific portion of the surface of the Earth, and thus determine the resolution and ultimately the detail of the images captured. Given that the 10-centimetre-per-pixel resolution that Albedo can deliver represents a worldview never before seen from space, it’s not an exaggeration to say that each captured pixel takes us that little bit closer to the ground truth of what we see from above.

©The close coordination of those high-resolution pixels, satellite design and orbit selection is the essence of the Albedo idea. And as Clarity moves into orbit and a new era of Earth observation begins, the debate over pixels and how the view of our world they provide could change is just beginning.

Jun 15, 2024
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