7/26/2010 5:06 PM EDT
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This agency and the rest of the U.S. government have had an interest in seeing both of these companies develop and strengthen over the last few years. To support them, they've provided their largest customer orders over the greatest period of time and given them the support needed to raise financing to build and launch their newest satellites.
The industry (at least in the U.S.) basically operates as a duopoly for GeoEye, which is based near Washington, D.C., and DigitalGlobe, which is based in Colorado. The two companies play leapfrog in terms of which one has the latest and greatest satellite in the sky, taking images.
The quality of the imagery keeps getting better in terms of color, resolution and how small a space they can capture. They're now at the point where they can capture an image of home plate on a baseball diamond, so they are extremely powerful.
Because of this, GeoEye and DigitalGlobe have found eager buyers of their imagery from the Web portals Google, Microsoft (MSFT -commentary - Trade Now) and Yahoo! (YHOO- commentary - Trade Now). These geospatial companies produced striking images of the recent Iceland volcano ash, the Iranian protests last year and President Obama's inauguration 18 months ago.