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Google Government Space

Google Earth's New Satellites 118

Posted by Soulskill
from the all-the-better-to-see-you-with,-my-dear dept.
Rambo Tribble writes "The BBC provides some insights into the next generation satellites being built for Google by contractor DigitalGlobe in Colorado. The resolution of these satellites' cameras is sufficient to resolve objects that are only 25cm wide. Unfortunately, the public will be allowed only half that image quality, the best being reserved for the U.S. military. 'The light comes in through a barrel structure, pointed at the Earth, and is bounced around by a series of mirrors, before being focused onto a CCD sensor. The big difference – apart from the size – between this and a typical handheld digital camera, is that the spacecraft will not just take snapshots but continuous images along thin strips of land or sea.'"
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Google Earth's New Satellites

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    ITAR applying to satellites and space probes is a right pain in the ass for anyone actually trying to get useful work done with international assistance.

    • by icebike (68054) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @05:42PM (#46232637)

      But it probably gets Google the sats it needs for free.

      If google can build it, but only the military can use the full resolution, it sounds like google is probably getting huge piles of money from the US Military.

      • by thomst (1640045) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @06:29PM (#46233085) Homepage

        icebike conjectured:

        But it probably gets Google the sats it needs for free.

        If google can build it, but only the military can use the full resolution, it sounds like google is probably getting huge piles of money from the US Military.

        The summary is completely wrong (surprise!)

        Google is NOT building the satellite (note the singular) in question. It will merely be a customer of DigitalGlobe - one of many, including the US government.

        Not that the US goverment needs DigitalGlobe's images. After all, the NSA has a fleet of its own satellites with far better image resolution capability than the DigitalGlobe effort.

        Slushdot: come for the misleading summaries, stay for the uninformed commentary!

        • After all, the NSA has a fleet of its own satellites with far better image resolution capability than the DigitalGlobe effort.

          Actually, that would be the National Reconnaissance Office [nro.gov] (NRO).

        • by sootman (158191)

          > Slushdot: come for the misleading summaries,
          > stay for the uninformed commentary!

          Yup. Only the power of The Beta can drive us away. :-)

        • by Dr La (1342733)

          It will merely be a customer of DigitalGlobe - one of many, including the US government.

          Not that the US goverment needs DigitalGlobe's images. After all, the NSA has a fleet of its own satellites with far better image resolution capability than the DigitalGlobe effort.

          In fact, the US Government relies heavily on DigitalGlobe imagery. After the optical component of the Future Imagery Architecture (FIA) program that should have replaced the aging KH-11 Keyhole/CRYSTAL satelites was scrapped, it left the NRO (the NSA has nothing to do with optical reconaissance) with limited high-res imaging capabilities. For a while they had only 3 operational KH-11 optical reconnaissance satellites left in orbit: two new recent launches have expanded this to 5 recently but one of these

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          When I was a contractor at DigitalGlobe, it was explained to me in this way:

          DigitalGlobe was one of the first, if not the first, companies to have a randomly taskable panchromatic satellite. Previously, only state agencies could afford such things.

          To prevent too much sensitive information reaching parties that the US Government preferred to not have access, an arrangement was made to allow the government first priority for exclusive data rights. They would buy up all the images that they wished to remain p

    • Unfortunately, the public will be allowed only half that image quality, the best being reserved for the U.S. military.

      This is somewhat to be expected for things like GPS (at least if you ignore that the taxpayers are the ones paying for it). But why is this the case when the instruments are being financed by a private company. Or, to look at it another way, the photos fall into two general categories: those outside the U.S.A. and those inside the U.S.A. It is hard to understand that our military would

      • by magarity (164372)

        Because the military finds out some company is launching a satelite that can take pictures at a certain resolution and simply contracts to exclusively access that. It's a great money maker for Google or anyone else who can launch one.

      • But why is this the case when the instruments are being financed by a private company.

        Because the export limitation is based on military utility, not on ownership of the company. Most weapons and other military equipment is produced by private companies, even if in some cases it is using government equipment or facilities to do so.

        If Apple were to branch out into military equipment, even if they didn't sell to the US government, wouldn't you want someone watching what happens with iMissile shipments?

        But it is even harder to understand that the military should get better images of the U.S.A. through Google than we can get ourselves. At least in times of peace and while they claim to not be at war with their own citizens.

        A couple of things there. First, many things of interest to enemies, adversaries, or terror

  • Continuous Image (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bondsbw (888959) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @05:28PM (#46232493)

    What, pray tell, is a "continuous image" and how is it not a series of snapshots?

    Is this like a video (which is seemingly continuous over time, made by sequencing snapshots) or like a panoramic image (which is continuous over space, made by processing/overlaying snapshots)?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It's continuous like two halves of a piece of string.

    • by Vulch (221502) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @05:43PM (#46232649)

      Usually means the sensor is just a single strip rather than a 2D array. The sensor is aligned across the path of the satellite and the motion along that path provides the other dimension.

    • by icebike (68054)

      What, pray tell, is a "continuous image" and how is it not a series of snapshots?

      Is this like a video (which is seemingly continuous over time, made by sequencing snapshots) or like a panoramic image (which is continuous over space, made by processing/overlaying snapshots)?

      Think slit cameras.
      You only need to capture a small slit-width at any given time, and paste them side by side in an endless stream of slit widths. You build images one slice at a time.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Think slit cameras.

        Think /r/gonewild.

      • Re:Continuous Image (Score:5, Informative)

        by LoRdTAW (99712) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @07:23PM (#46233563)

        Or better yet: a flatbed scanner.
        In a scanner you have a 1 dimensional array of sensors defining a pixel width. You then move the sensor along an axis repeatedly recording that data at regular intervals (distance or time). That motion gomes from a little rubber timing belt around two pulleys, one of which is a step motor, which drags the 1D sensor across the photo or page being scanned. The result is now a 2d array of pixels that is, drum roll please: a picture we can see. If you ever used a scanner you would notice that high resolution scans take much longer. This is because the sensor has to be moved more slowly in order to allow the scanner to properly process the large amount of data from the sensor and send it to the computer without needing large amounts of memory in the scanner. Lets do some math: a hypothetical scanner has a sensor with 300 pixels per inch, 8.5 inches wide (for letter sized paper) and capturing 24 bits of RGB color. You now have (300*8.5*24)/8 = 7650 bytes per sample. And if you sample at 300 evenly spaced points in one inch and you page length is 11 inches (again letter size) then you have 7650*300*11 = 25245000 or 25.25 megs of data for a 300x300 DPI 24 bit color scan.

        The same technology is used in slit cameras for industrial automation systems on conveyor lines or other areas of machine vision. The conveyor or linear movement is like the little belt in the flatbed scanner moving the object past the 1D sensor array. The cameras used are slit cameras that contain a 1D pixel array and using an encoder on the conveyor or timing, a computer can determine the speed at which to sample the array and write that line of data to a 2D array and voila, a picture appears. You can treat the image as a stream of pixel lines and write them to a file akin to a scrolling image. The interesting part is the images from that stream isn't a single instant in time (or freeze frame) like a photo from a 2D sensor but a picture of time elapsed from row to row of pixels. Its a picture of elapsed time. Or like an oscilloscope. But you have a 2D array of pixels vs time instead of signal amplitude vs time.

        But why a 1D array when we have 2D arrays in cameras already? The answer is twofold:
        -you can more effectively make a wider pixel array consisting of millions of pixels and remove the need to take a large, data intensive frame. You simply stream the 1D array and buffer it. You somewhat simplify the imaging process as you simply stream the sensor data to disk(or wherever) instead of freeze, write buffer to disk and then get ready to snap again.
        -pixels next to each other on a 2D sensor experience noise from each other. Ever zoom in on a picture taken with a cheap, high megapixel camera? Its looks like grey, fuzzy/blurry snow. That is the noise. So a 1D array has less noise as its a single row of pixels.

        The Google satellite is using the same technology and the benefits are enormous.

        And one more tidbit: those persistence of vision displays that uses a 1D array of spinning LED's to create images or text works the opposite of a slit camera. Instead of reading a sensor array, it writes to an array of LED's at regular intervals (say every degree of rotation at a constant speed) to produce an image. It does this so fast your eyes don't notice the array LEDs switching on and off.

    • by kimvette (919543)

      It probably is a single strip of sensors almost exactly like a scanner.

  • I thought the original satellites were not owned by google but the images were leased. Do these satellites actually belong to google?

  • The technologies that exist to create such high tech maps are incredible. I find it sad the the average human will mostly never see the extent of this technology. There are many technologies that already exist that we will never see or hear about. It is to bad that we can't even experience a high quality images of the world we live in. I would find it incredible interesting to view.
    • by gnick (1211984) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @05:47PM (#46232697) Homepage

      It is to bad that we can't even experience a high quality images of the world we live in.

      Actually, I was just outside (a scary thought I know) and was able to discern things much smaller than 25 cm. The world is incredible to view - The best way is to decide what you want to see most, then find a way to go take it in with incredible resolution. Not much tech involved than what most of us were born with.

      • This is true, we can see and enjoy our immediate surroundings. But I love to look at places on Google Earth that I may never be able to visit, I think it would be amazing to view these places through the high tech lenses that actually exist!
        • by Kjella (173770)

          Well at best even with near infinite resolution you'd see them like an eagle flying over them, which would be odd in most cases. I think 99% of the time I'd prefer to use Google Streetview or a photoblog of some form to get a human perspective on things. Not to mention they could take pictures inside buildings, under thick foliage, underwater and other places an overhead camera could never reach. Not that a photoblog is anything close to actually visiting, but aerial photos isn't even close to that.

      • by nurb432 (527695)

        True, but now try that in the back woods of China, or Antarctica.. you cant go everywhere in person.

  • I'm not exactly crying a river of despondent tears.

    • by AvitarX (172628)

      foot (well 20" and 10").

      • by Nutria (679911)

        Oh, right; cm not mm. :(

        I'm still not crying a river...

        • I am. Over the American education system though, not the images.

          Metric really isn't that hard.

          • by Nutria (679911)

            Metric isn't hard. Remembering little-used conversion values is.

            Cry instead for the 48% who think that Astrology isn't utter bunk.

    • by magarity (164372)

      You misconverted centimeters?

  • I wish they'd do a modern (eg LTE) version of what Teledesic claimed to intend. Global access to data communication with a direct link to Google's cloud services could be beneficial to huge numbers of people on the planet, and would also give Google the sort of infrastructure level access to data that they have seemed to enjoy having in the past.
    • So you wish they'd spend billions of dollars for no gain?
      Global broadband from satellites isn't very good. You've got 300ms of latency simply due to the speed of light and the fact the satellites are 42,000km away.
      It's also very hard for a satellite to pick up any transmission originating from a large area. Before DSL became popular, satellite broadband was a downlink only, with the uplink provided by a dial-up connection.

      If you want a satellite to reach a large number of users, it's a one-way system.

      • When I use the internet from home, my little dish lights up the satellite so effectively that not only can the satellite distinguish it from all the other radio frequency clutter emanating from northern Europe, I can push 6Mb/s up the link. Yes, I know you city folk think that's absurdly slow, but I find it mind boggling. What's even more mind-boggling is that it only eats 38 watts to do that. Of course if everyone was trying to light up the satellite at the same time it almost certainly wouldn't be able to

        • How fast is the link when there is a lot of cloud cover or more than a handful of concurrent users?
          cdma and other similar technology allows the receiver to pick out a signal below the noise floor. Its pretty fancy stuff, but you'd either need dozens of satellites spaced far apart or very large amounts of spectrum just to provide decent bandwidth to a single city.
          That's why cell phones are more popular than sat phones and why cell networks are comprised of many small towers over a large area instead of how T

        • Wow, that's a fast downlink, never mind uplink.

          I'm a bandwidth-starved Brit from the Northwest backwaters, one of the first to get fibre (spelt correctly) in Leyland, Lancashire - and then use it to spread anarchy in the form of recycled computers with pirated windows and learning software (and yes, games) through that hell-hole, enlightening many a disillusioned soul suffering from the negative effects of the DAF fallout...

          So how exactly are you doing that, Sir? And can I come play with it, please? Rachel

      • At least billions. The Teledesic idea was a large constellation of LEO satellites - less latency, a smaller target area, lots more of the expensive satellites. I'm not suggesting they give away the service, but rather to sell it at break-even prices (for an at-capacity network) and profit (as previously) from looking at the data and selling advertising. It would be profitable in the long run, if the satellites didn't get shot down.
      • geostationary orbit is 36000km, not 42000km

  • by hubie (108345) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @05:46PM (#46232679)

    'The light comes in through a barrel structure, pointed at the Earth, and is bounced around by a series of mirrors, before being focused onto a CCD sensor.

    Hmmmm, some kind of "barrel structure" and "bouncing light around with a series of mirrors". That all sounds pretty futuristic. And here I thought they could get by with just using something like a telescope.

    • by mspohr (589790)

      I think they are using this technology:
      http://www.apartmenttherapy.co... [apartmenttherapy.com]
      10 Ways to Use Mirrors to Make Your Space Look Larger
      See, it's space and magnification...
      Here are a few hot tips from the article...
      1. Group Them Together:
      2. Behind The Stove:
      3. Turn Them On Their Side:
      4. Cabinet Fronts:
      5. Next To Your Dining Room Table:
      6. Floor Length:
      7. Layer Them Up:
      8. Fake A Window:
      9. Beautiful Backsplashes:
      10. Fake Mirrored Furniture:

      From the looks of it, they are using all of these tricks in this new satellite.

    • by timeOday (582209)
      So read the article:

      With its long cylindrical shape, WorldView-3 looks more like a telescope than a camera and it works on the same principle. The light comes in through a barrel structure, pointed at the Earth, and is bounced around by a series of mirrors, before being focused onto a CCD sensor.

      • by hubie (108345)
        Of course it is a telescope. I'm not sure what the person who wrote the article was thinking; maybe they were thinking the optics would be some kind of big refractive system that snaps on the front of the camera like a Nikon lens. There are many, many telescope designs, but a couple of the defining features of them are that they have cylindrical barrels and they bounce the light that comes into them through a series of mirrors (and lenses too). I'm not sure why the author would think that a space telesco
        • by Rich0 (548339)

          Well, when you stop and think about it, telescopes and cameras are really just the same thing. At what point do you call a "camera" with a high magnification a telescope, and at what point do you call a "telescope" with a wide field of view a camera?

          You have a device that captures images, and you have an optical system that projects an image onto it. There are a bunch of ways you can design the optical system, and you can find many of them both in telescopes and in things you can plug onto a camera you mi

  • by rea1l1 (903073)

    Another reason to plant more trees.

  • So how exactly does this 0.5 meter resolution compare to the current resolution on google's sattelite pics? Seems to me like the current pics have pixels thinner than 0.5 meters... I feel like I am missing something? I don't really know much about photography, so maybe someone can fill me in.
    • Just a guess, It might be more of a vertical integration answer than a quality of your local pictures one.

      If they have to get their map data from someone else, at what ever most-recent time is available, at what ever resolution is available-- it might be nicer to get more regular dumps data you have more control over from the same satellite.

    • Re:Resolution (Score:4, Informative)

      by maeka (518272) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @06:12PM (#46232933) Journal

      Seems to me like the current pics have pixels thinner than 0.5 meters... I feel like I am missing something?

      In many (most?) developed western areas the images are from planes, not satellites. There is a great deal of high-res aerial photography on the open market and Google has used much.

      The development being discussed in the article will benefit outlying areas and places where having temporal density is useful.

    • by Nukenbar (215420)

      most close in google photos are taken via aerial photography.

  • "We're sorry but this site is not accessible from the UK as it is part of our international service and is not funded by the licence fee."

    Not cool BBC, not cool.
  • "“Once a year they pick cities like Denver or London and rescan them and they get it into their database – how often Google buys those images and updates its maps, is up to them.”
    I'm surprised that Google is still buying DigitalGlobe imagery for the continental USA, ESPECIALLY for major metropolitan areas.

    Most states have state-level orthoimagery collection programs, and as a result, there is high-quality aerial imagery significantly exceeding these satellites in quality over most of the U

    • Am I the only person who considers it interesting that DigitalGlobe is prevented from selling high resolution images by the US while state governments are practically giving away even higher resolution images. This kind of crap is why conspiracy theories are so common. Though, my bets on good old government incompetence.

  • Looks like new and cool revenue stream for Google. Are they becoming military contractor for war criminals^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^HUS Army ?
  • by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @07:40PM (#46233713)

    That means it's probably safe to assume the ones we're not allowed to know of are substantially better than that.

  • by koan (80826)

    What would happen if a civilian entity launched high res sats and allowed civilians to use it at the highest res.

  • what the hell does US militairy have to do with satelites being designed and payed for by google? the militairy doesn't have anything to say about what is allowed or not..

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