We just acquired three million square kilometers of the freshest, highest resolution 30 cm imagery available from DigitalGlobe, the largest satellite company in the world. The imagery was captured by DG’s new WorldView-3 satellite – the most advanced high-resolution satellite in history, outside of any crazy government spy satellites that we don’t know about.

WorldView-3 can collect roughly the area of Texas every day and handles space-to-ground transfer using an X-band radio link more than a hundred times faster than a home Internet connection. This combination of quantity and quality is unprecedented.

Prioritizing imagery collection

Three million square kilometers is a ton of imagery. It’s enough to cover all of the world’s urban areas, California seven times over, or the entire land area of India. But it won’t give us a complete global update.

To make sure we’re covering the most important places on the map, our satellite team is now selecting areas that need updates, and our data analysis team is systematizing a process for finding missing or low-res imagery worldwide. The results are building a tightly focused list of where we will allocate the three million square kilometers:

Using a grid system, our data analysis team systematically identifies priority areas. Colors represent different metrics.

Beautiful, precise imagery

The combination of color, crispness, and volume from WorldView-3 is unparalleled by any other commercial imagery that we’ve worked with. The 30 cm pixels will provide sharpness that’s only available today in aerial imagery, with a single pixel covering an area of ground one foot on a side. Not only does this let us zoom down to level 18 on our maps, it’s also super accurate. You can read the numbers on the planes’ parking lots at airports, count shipping containers, and see what materials are used inside buildings under construction.

The step up from standard 50 cm imagery to the new 30 cm data is huge because sharpness is proportional to the square of the pixel edge length. Where the older imagery covers a square meter with 4 pixels, the new 30 cm generation has 9:

Left: WorldView-3–size pixels, at 30 cm. Right: today’s typical high-res pixels, at 50 cm, brought to you by Mapbox remote sensing specialist Camilla and Bruno from the World Bank.

With WorldWiew-3 imagery, we’ll effectively have more than twice as many pixels over any given area.

Updates will start rolling in a few months, as we finalize our collection areas. And of course it’s all 100% open for tracing in OpenStreetMap. Hit us up on Twitter – @Mapbox and @DigitalGlobe – if you want us to target a specific area!