DigitalGlobe, the only producer of high-resolution commercial satellite imagery in the U.S., is now able to sell higher-quality products thanks to regulatory relief provided by the U.S. Commerce Department.

The company has been limited to selling black-and-white images no better than 50-cm resolution despite the ability to collect higher-quality images with its satellites. Effective immediately, it can now sell images with 40-cm resolution, a change to a 14-year-old policy. The company may also now sell color images with 1.6-meter resolution, down from the 2-meter restriction, according to Tahara Dawkins, director of Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. DigitalGlobe had been forced to degrade higher quality images from the GeoEye-1 and WorldView-2 satellites to comply with regulations.

Company officials hail the decision for sparking innovation and keeping pace with international competitors such as Airbus (formerly EADS Astrium). It will "fuel innovation, create new high-tech jobs and advance the nation’s commanding lead in this strategically important industry," says Jeffrey Tarr, company CEO. DigitalGlobe requested the relief in 2013 in anticipation of the launch of its most sophisticated satellite to date, WorldView-3, which is due to launch Aug. 13 or 14 from Vandenberg AFB, California.

The regulatory relief will allow for DigitalGlobe to sell 25-cm black-and-white resolution and 1-meter color imagery from WorldView-3 six months after it becomes operational. The satellite is designed to collect with a 31-cm resolution at its planned altitude in low Earth orbit. But it can be maneuvered to a lower altitude for higher-resolution products.

The shift was backed by the U.S. intelligence community after months of deliberation. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper announced that he supported the plan in April, and lawmakers largely fell in line to support the U.S. industrial base as foreign competitors continue to chase market share.

DigitalGlobe is also planning to maneuver WorldView-1 into a new orbit to capture images in the afternoon local time of ground targets. This is designed to provide customers with better "change detection" by monitoring specific targets at different times to look for changes in the landscape. "This shift will optimize the DigitalGlobe constellation to monitor changes on the Earth at various times during the day," a company announcement says.

WorldView-1 will take two years to maneuver into its new orbit; it will complete its shift in the spring of 2016, company spokesman Turner Brinton says.