Indian Space Agency to Roll Out Rival to Google Earth

Emboldened by its first mission to the Moon, India is to take on a target closer to Earth: Google.

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), which is based in Bangalore, the Silicon Valley of the subcontinent, will roll out a rival to Google Earth, the hugely popular online satellite-imagery service, by the end of the month.

The project, dubbed Bhuvan (Sanskrit for "Earth"), will allow users to zoom into areas as small as 10 meters wide, compared to what Bhuvan's backers say is a 200-meter-wide zoom limit on Google Earth.

(Google Earth's resolution in fact varies greatly, with some central cities rendered by images taken from aircraft instead of satellites.)

Bhuvan comes as India redoubles its efforts to reap profits from its 45-year-old space program, long criticized as a drain on a country where 700 million people live on $2 a day.

It also follows in the slipstream of the country's first lunar orbiter, Chandrayaan-1, which successfully sent a probe down to the moon's surface on Friday.

Bhuvan will use a network of satellites to create a high-resolution, bird's-eye view of India — and later, possibly, the rest of the world — that will be accessible at no cost online and will compete with Google Earth.

If a pilot version passes muster, Bhuvan will be fully operational by the spring. There are also plans to incorporate a global positioning system (GPS) into the online tool.

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