In a rather interesting alliance, Google, GeoEye and the U.S. government through their National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency have launched a commercial satellite with new image capturing technology that will offer higher resolution images of Earth. Under the agreement Google will have exclusive rights over the mapping images produced, as well as getting their logo on the rocket that put the satellite in orbit. This $502 million piece of equipment will be able to capture black and white images in a .41 meters (16 inches) resolution and color images in a 1.65 meters (5.5 feet) resolution.
Although it is too early to tell how this will affect the quality of the images offered on Google Maps, it seems that no matter how powerful the image capturing technology, the average user will never get full access to the higher quality pictures due to security concerns. In this specific case, the government funded the project under the condition that images distributed to the general public had to be taken in a lesser resolution.