A rocket carrying a next-generation Earth-imaging satellite blasted off Tuesday on a mission that promises to zoom in on objects as small as 18 inches across.
The WorldView-1 satellite, built for DigitalGlobe, a privately held Colorado-based provider of high-resolution commercial satellite imagery, was lofted into space aboard a Delta 2 rocket.
It was expected to take several hours before ground controllers
would know whether it reached orbit.
WorldView-1 was designed to collect up to 290,000 square miles of imagery a day - an area about the size of Texas.
Information gathered by the 5,000-pound probe can be used by governments and companies to assess damage after a natural disaster or plan escape routes before a catastrophe, the company said.
WorldView-1 is the first of two advanced remote sensing satellites DigitalGlobe plans to launch.
The company has said its sister satellite, WorldView-2, will be ready for launch late next year.
DigitalGlobe, which supplies much of Google Earth's imagery, also manages the QuickBird commercial satellite launched in 2001.
While WorldView-1's resolution is only slightly higher than QuickBird, the new probe can store more images because it has a larger onboard system.
It's expected to be in operation for about seven years.
Tuesday's launch occurred on the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force.
"What better way to celebrate our 60 years of service to this nation than to have the opportunity to launch a payload into space," Col. Steve Tanous, 30th Space Wing commander, said in a statement.
The satellite was built for privately held DigitalGlobe who supply internet giant Google with images that are currently being used in the search for missing aviator Steve Fossett.