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Space Imagery Technology

It inspired movies like ‘Enemy of the State’ and ‘Patriot Games’ that have been criticized for years as ‘Big Brother’ caricatures. Movies’ exaggerated plots and glitzy special effects have had a major influence on popular culture, even to the point of making the public feel as if the government is really spying on it. The pandering to conspiracy theories and super-agent spy equipment imagery sells tickets, and persuades plenty of theater-goers that reality is right there behind the big screen. But the actuality, located in the beautiful city of Thornton, Colorado, is a whole other story.

All images copyright of SpaceImaging

Privacy concerns have bordered on paranoia among the denizens of this wonderful country; easing that concern is hard, especially when they’ve been abducted by aliens, right? As hard as it may be to believe, our government is not allowed to just ‘spy’ on its people, given the many laws in place. Besides, it has more on its plate than you and I could imagine. Spy satellites have been around for quite some time, close to 50 years. Technology, of course, has expanded quite a bit since then, as have surveillance laws. Such technology has protected our country, but it has done more than that, and that’s where Space Imaging comes into play.

I was offered an opportunity to visit the Space Imaging Company in Thornton, Colorado, which specializes in such technology. I caught up with Gary Napier, Public Relations Manager of Space Imaging, to get an inside look at what goes on behind the scenes of such a facility, and at its technology.

First, it should be noted that its intensions are not to ‘spy’ on you and I, as they are a commercial company. In fact, they are one of three in the world that provides this capacity to observe from above for commercial use. You won’t find ‘top-secret’ information here, either. However, you will find 1M images that the government has revised the law to allow the public to see.

Hollywood has also found Space Imaging of great use. A much talked-about movie of 2002 was Sum of All Fears, based on the Tom Clancy book. Images used in transitional elements showed realistic zoom-in scenes from space at seven different locations around the world. Space Imaging supplied the images to Hollywood for approximately $90,000.

Space Imaging, the actual company, is a self-proclaimed specialist in consumer exploitation of space imaging. Confused? Well, let’s say for instance, that you own a huge orchard of orange trees, and are concerned about the health and condition of your crop, or have noticed lowered productivity. You, the crop owner, do not have the available time to walk each square mile inspecting tree-by-tree and taking soil samples. The alternative is to use this satellite technology to zoom in and get near-infrared images that will provide more than enough information.

From this point you can now focus in on areas that need more attention, according to analysis of image details. Soil samples can be taken within the most important areas, and take other tests to help resolve agriculture problems. This helps produce a better product, and pay the bills. But it does more than just help out you farmers…

The IKONOS”IKONOS is derived from the Greek word for “image.” The IKONOS satellite is the world’s first commercial satellite to collect black-and-white images with 1-meter resolution and multispectral imagery with 4-meter resolution.

Sensor CharacteristicsThe IKONOS satellite weighs about 1600 pounds. It orbits the Earth every 98 minutes at an altitude of approximately 680 kilometers or 423 miles. IKONOS was launched into a sun-synchronous orbit, passing a given longitude at about the same local time (10:30 A.M.) daily. IKONOS can produce 1-meter imagery of the same geography every 3 days.” (Space Imaging site info.)

The IKONOS satellite lifted in 1999, as one of the first commercial use satellites launched. Its powerful lens is capable of producing some of the most advanced images ever put in the public eye. Since then, that public has had an opportunity to see some of the most amazing images every produced. We see them everywhere, and sometimes wonder who’s producing them. And it’s the IKONOS satellite, which was contracted, built, and launched by Lockheed Martin, giving us this closer eyeful of the world.


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Categories: Computing.