security tools. Certainly, space programs have also
been inextricably linked with hard power of military
The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA)
has long-term commitments to the commercial remote
sensing marketplace to enable the next generation of
orbiting imagers. This way the agency will ensure these
next-generation orbiters are built to meet NGA and U.S.
The amount of publicly available, lower-resolution
satellite images is growing, and allows users to define
and analyze such larger-scale features of sites of interest by government and nongovernment organizations
The companies that collect the imagery also provide
analytical tools that help official and nongovernment
parties monitor situations such as active wild fires, to
include fire reports, perimeters and predictions; as well
as current flood observations, along with warnings,
precipitation and forecasts; and shared media.
Additionally, a number of companies, academic institutions and NGOs have developed their own capabilities to take advantage of space-based imagery.
GeoEye’s IKONOS, launched in 1999, was the first
commercial high-resolution color satellite, with 82-
centimeter resolution, which means the smallest unit
that maps to a single pixel within an image is 82 centimeters by 82 centimeters. It was joined by GeoEye- 1
— with 41-centimeter resolution — in 2008. GeoEye-
1 can locate an object of that size anywhere on Earth.
“We do serve the defense community,” Tully said.
“This frees up more sophisticated satellites to collect
imagery on higher priority targets.”
Additionally, the cost of commercial imagery can be
offset by sales in the private sector. Tully said GeoEye pro-
vides imagery to customers in government, energy, trans-
portation, mining, the media and public safety. GeoEye’s
products find their way into Google Maps, nightly news
broadcasts and even video games.
GeoEye provides satellite imagery to the NGA, its
largest customer, under a service-level agreement,
“Every month, we collect a certain amount of
imagery and make it available. We know in advance
what they want us to collect. What they ask for is
sometimes classified. Sometimes what we collect for
them we can use for other purposes,” he said.
Tully noted that analysts could combine multiple
sources of content and data, such as historical events, cultural information, cellular traffic and Twitter activity, infrastructure and weather, pour all of those attributes and data
into a data fusion engine using high-performance computational algorithms, and apply the results to understand
where things are likely to occur.
Nikki Ange, an environmental scientist with the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers’ Norfolk District, and Garrett Wickham, an
environmental protection specialist from the Portland District,
use satellite imagery of Joplin, Mo., and remaining landmarks
to locate properties that require assessment surveys following the tornado that destroyed much of the city May 22.
The same techniques can be applied in other markets, such as infrastructure protection, fraud and criminal activity, or market fluctuations.
Geospatial imagery products can be combined to provide before-and-after comparisons. Different images of
the same area can be layered and superimposed to show
terrain; critical infrastructure such as power plants, dams
and bridges; locations of potential hazardous waste; and
economic sites such as factories and refineries.
In the 2003 report, “The Hidden Gulag: Exposing
North Korea’s Prison Camps; Prisoners’ Testimonies
and Satellite Photographs,” the Committee for Human
Rights in North Korea used commercially available
imagery to correlate reports from former guards and
prisoners from North Korea about the repressive prison
colonies and their conditions, to raise awareness about
conditions in North Korea and call attention on human
rights abuses in that country.
Amnesty International also has published satellite
imagery and details that reveal the true scale of North
Korea’s network of political prison camps and the
200,000 people who are held in horrific conditions.
Satellite imagery also can be applied to Global
Positioning System (GPS) navigation applications.
With the ability to assign GPS tracking devices to “
targets,” progressive imagery can be obtained for dynamic
As the Walking-with-the-Wounded team from the
United Kingdom trekked to the North Pole this spring
(they arrived April 16), an online interactive map from
ESRI UK Ltd., Aylesbury, England, allowed people to
follow the team — which included wounded warriors
— with its real-time GPS position. ■