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US Government OKs Sale of Sharper Satellite Images 82

Posted by samzenpus
from the clear-skies dept.
itwbennett (1594911) writes The U.S. government has lifted a long-standing restriction that meant companies like Google and Microsoft didn't have access to the most accurate pictures taken by imaging satellites. Satellite operator DigitalGlobe said that it received approval from the U.S. Department of Commerce this week to sell sharper images to its clients. Until now, satellite operators like DigitalGlobe were prevented by law from selling images to foreign or commercial organizations in which features smaller than 50 centimeters were visible. The restriction was meant to ensure that foreign powers didn't get access to satellite images that were too good.
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US Government OKs Sale of Sharper Satellite Images

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  • by tooslickvan (1061814) on Friday June 13, 2014 @01:26AM (#47227477)
    I glad that US government has finally approved sharper images. Hopefully, this increase the availability of ionic breezes for everyone.
  • by TheCaptain (17554) on Friday June 13, 2014 @01:29AM (#47227495)

    but they can't share it with you. I'm not sure how much they can even disclose about the abilities of the satellites they have, but you need to bear in mind that companies like Google actually own imaging satellites of their own. They've been able to do much higher resolutions for a very very long time already...they just haven't been allowed share it with us.

    The resolution limitations have been political in nature...most if not all of the hardware already up there has been able to provide higher resolution for years. I think some providers were getting around that by providing arial photography in some areas instead...the 50cm limitations are for satellites. Photography from airplanes doesn't have that limitation.

    • by s.petry (762400)

      I think some providers were getting around that by providing arial photography in some areas instead...the 50cm limitations are for satellites. Photography from airplanes doesn't have that limitation.

      Airspace restrictions are a limitation on aircraft photography, but no such limit can be enforced on Satellites. You could not go get a high-resolution photos of Area 51 or Aberdeen proving grounds from your airplane. Well, you could, but you would not have them for long. Either your gear would be confiscated and you would be in jail, or you would become a debris field.

      I don't see much in this article that provides what restrictions are still in place, but I would guess that there are some restrictions s

      • by TheCaptain (17554)

        Airspace restrictions are a limitation on aircraft photography, but no such limit can be enforced on Satellites. You could not go get a high-resolution photos of Area 51 or Aberdeen proving grounds from your airplane.

        Yeah...this is obviously true. When I wrote that I had more conventional things in mind, such as the 45 degree views that are available over many cities in Google Maps. Those were done with aerial photography, if I'm not mistaken. I think Bing maps and others are the same way. There were some OpenStreetMap projects doing some things with aerial imagery too...I haven't looked at the state of those projects in awhile, but it looked like neat stuff. Obviously there are services that will do aerial imagery

        • by gl4ss (559668)

          whatever they want to keep under wraps thye're keeping under wraps(litereally) most of the time. russia has sats, china has sats...

        • by MooseTick (895855)

          Exactly. They may have just realized they can't hide stuff in open view anymore. I'm sure someone has or is planning to buid a drone and fly it over area 51, the pentagon, and other "secret" and protected types of places. If they take those images with a decent camera and dump that via cellular as its taken, then shooting it down won't even do much good. If you are willing to lose $1000-5000 worth of gear, I suspect you could have extremely high resolution images of anywhere. And once you get those photos a

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        The funny thing is that they don't bother to reduce resolution over sensitive sites in China or Russia. The same is true of commercial satellite imagery in those countries - they don't bother to hide sensitive US sites.

    • by Greyfox (87712)
      Google doesn't (Or didn't until a few days ago) own satellites. They buy their satellite imagery from Geoeye and DigitalGlobe. I'm not sure if they own any aerial providers or if they just buy aerial imagery from a third party. Aerial imagery is higher resolution, but it's a lot easier to shoot down an airplane if you don't want it taking pictures of something.
      • by philip.paradis (2580427) on Friday June 13, 2014 @02:25AM (#47227677)

        GeoEye and DigitalGlobe merged in January of 2013. From launch to the present day, Google has maintained exclusive online mapping rights to the data produced by the GeoEye-1 satellite, often referred to as Google-1. The Google logo was on the Delta II rocket that put the satellite into orbit. While NGA and Google collaborated to provide funding in the amount of approximately USD $500M for the satellite and launch, it's a bit disingenuous to say Google shouldn't have been considered an owner.

        • by mattack2 (1165421)

          What is NGA? Is it a governmental agency? (If it is, why is my tax money paying for something that Google has exclusive rights to? If it isn't, ignore the question..)

          • NGA is the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency [nga.mil] (alternate Wikipedia source: National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency) [wikipedia.org]. It should be noted that while NGA and Google both supplied funding for the satellite, NGA's contribution was approximately USD $248M, while Google's portion of the funding was remitted through GeoEye (which was later purchased by DigitalGlobe in 2013) under a contract for which the terms have not been publicly disclosed. While the exact amount of Google-supplied capital is unknown, it ma

      • by TheCaptain (17554)

        Google doesn't (Or didn't until a few days ago) own satellites. They buy their satellite imagery from Geoeye and DigitalGlobe. I'm not sure if they own any aerial providers or if they just buy aerial imagery from a third party. Aerial imagery is higher resolution, but it's a lot easier to shoot down an airplane if you don't want it taking pictures of something.

        I stand corrected on that...you're right. Just had to double check that for myself. I thought they owned some imagery satellites of their own already.

        Anyways...the other part is true. Many of the existing satellites up there can do higher resolution than what we've currently been allowed to see. I got to chat with someone at DigitalGlobe at a conference once...it was interesting stuff to hear about. I had no idea about any of those details up until that point.

    • So, TFA states that the currently existing hardware in orbit has resolution of 46 or 41 cm, depending on which bird you're talking about. I'd really be shocked if I could tell the difference between 50cm resolution and 41cm resolution. Even future hardware, with a resolution of 31 cm, doesn't sound all that much better.

      As others have opined, I don't see what benefit this will have, really. I can already see the small bushes in my backyard that I planted. I just see the size of Google's image database in

      • I'd really be shocked if I could tell the difference between 50cm resolution and 41cm resolution.

        The critical value is 39cm. That's 11 clearer.

    • by riT-k0MA (1653217)
      Satellite images available to the US Govt and certain companies since the early 2000's have such a high resolution that one is able to see a tennis ball lying on a lawn. The next generation of satellites has a high enough resolution to use facial detection algorithms on the images.
      • The next generation of satellites has a high enough resolution to use facial detection algorithms on the images

        No matter how good your resolution that's not gonna happen from a vertical angle.

        • by RabidReindeer (2625839) on Friday June 13, 2014 @07:36AM (#47228597)

          The next generation of satellites has a high enough resolution to use facial detection algorithms on the images

          No matter how good your resolution that's not gonna happen from a vertical angle.

          They'll just work back from reflections on automobile windshields.

        • by cdrudge (68377)

          Reminds me of a scene from Enemy Of the State [imdb.com]:

          [the NSA team is watching satellite footage of a conversation between Dean and Brill on a rooftop]
          Hicks: Can you get a feature scan and pattern matching on him?
          Van: No, he's smart, he never looks up.
          Jones: Why does he have to look up?
          Fiedler: The satellite is 155 miles above the Earth. It can only look straight down.
          Jones: That's a bit limited, isn't it?
          Van: [Sarcastically] Well, maybe you should design a better one.
          Jones: Maybe I will idiot.

          • by Hodr (219920)

            What makes you think satellites can only look straight down? Just because the images released to the general public are always from that angle doesn't make light work any differently than the RF signaling coming from satellites.

            Do you need to be directly below the SIRIUS/XM satellites, or the DirecTv satellites? Sure, it increases the distance to scan at an angle, but even at 45 degrees you are only talking about a 30% increase in distance.

            So, the question should be can they do facial detection at 220 mil

            • Yep a 30% increase in distance with a good share of that extra distance through that messy atmosphere. Insurmountable, probably not but not a trivial problem either. The main advantage of aerial photography versus satellite photography is the reduced amount of atmosphere that is in the way so yeah extra distance can be a real issue.

          • Later on in that movie they abandon such realism in favor of store surveillance cameras that can see the opposite side of a person too. In 3D no less@

    • by flyneye (84093)

      Yeah, well, sharing is just one campaign contribution away, as is anything corporations want to do....
      Jeez, optimists.... no follow through.

      One merely has to ask oneself, how close do I really want to see? There is entirely every chance the image could show me pumping the wife in the back yard.
      Youre never too old to screw like a teenager, youre never too young to accidentally see what older folks look like naked, lol!

    • but they can't share it with you. I'm not sure how much they can even disclose about the abilities of the satellites they have, but you need to bear in mind that companies like Google actually own imaging satellites of their own. They've been able to do much higher resolutions for a very very long time already...they just haven't been allowed share it with us.

      The resolution limitations have been political in nature...most if not all of the hardware already up there has been able to provide higher resolution for years. I think some providers were getting around that by providing arial photography in some areas instead...the 50cm limitations are for satellites. Photography from airplanes doesn't have that limitation.

      If you do a lot of zooming in Google Maps Aerial View, you'll notice that at certain levels they switch image sources. They don't use satellite all the way down. In a lot of places, the lower view is definitely low-altitude aircraft. In fact, in my state, they simply used the state's own aerial survey images, which are available to anyone for a minimal copying fee.

  • by mendax (114116) on Friday June 13, 2014 @01:29AM (#47227497)

    For the voyeurs among us, it'll allow them to get a better look at those sunbathing nude in their backyards. But beyond that, what will it offer? Perhaps better looks at the Disneyland of North Korea, Pyongyang, the capital of that Tragic Kingdom? That's one of my favorite places to look at via Google Earth.

    • No it won't, unless the're trying to get a look at your mom.
      They used to get images with 4 pixels per square metre. Now they can get 6 pixels.
      They already use aerial photography to get better resolution.

    • by CODiNE (27417)

      I can't tell much about Pyongyang from the aerials, what stands out about it?

    • by pubwvj (1045960)

      "For the voyeurs among us, it'll allow them to get a better look at those sunbathing nude in their backyards."

      Gee... You must be looking at some freakin' huge sunbathing nudes? Whale watch much? 50 cm won't show you a human nipple, penis, crotch or even a face. 50 cm is nearly 20 inches. That's about as wide as someone's shoulders. That's one pixel. No, you won't be doing any voyeurism with this resolution.

      "But beyond that, what will it offer?"

      I farm. I do forestry. Higher resolution photos will help me do

  • I can't be the only one who read the headline as the above...

  • But what if they fell into the hands of terrusts and pediofiddlers?

  • I wonder about this feature-size stuff. In the Google-maps picture of our house, you can see the bright-yellow garden hose snaking across the lawn. A garden hose is a lot thinner than 50cm, even if it is long.

    So: What is meant by a 50cm feature size? And just how much better are the best available satellite images?

    • by Megane (129182) on Friday June 13, 2014 @08:23AM (#47228811) Homepage
      Those pictures are not from satellite. They are aerial photographs taken by planes. Go to the middle of nowhere and you will see the (current) limits of satellite resolution.
    • What you'll see as you approach the limit of resolution is the average color of each pixel, so features smaller than the feature size are still visible. That is to say, a 10cm yellow pipe and green grass will make a yellow/green pixel. What you can't see is whether there is one pipe 10cm is diameter or two pipes, each 3cm.

      Another example would be sign that is 20cm wide. That sign will be visible as it effects the color of the pixel, but none of the lettering will be visible because the whole sign is just o

  • It was a fairly silly limitation to begin with.
    At 50 cm resolution a competent analyst can identify specific models of aircrafts and other military veichals,
    Counting them and identifying movement is even easier.

  • to find my car keys? Don't laugh - IIRC Hubble has the resolution of a dime at 200 miles, right? It orbits at about 350 miles out. The capability is certainly there.
  • Magnify. Zoom in on the reflection in his sunglasses. Enhance. There's the killer's face right there. Sergeant Takerdown and Sergeant Booker, go pick up our unsub and bring her in for questioning.

  • So nowhere near good enough to ID a person, or even a vehicle.

  • http://xkcd.com/1204/ [xkcd.com] "Google defends the swiveling roof-mounted scanning electron microscopes on its Street View cars, saying they 'don't reveal anything that couldn't be seen by any pedestrian scanning your house with an electron microscope.'"

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