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Implications of Commercial 1m Res Satellite 125

One-eyed Orbital Snake writes "Interesting essay in the NYT magazine (free login, yadda yadda) on commercial 1m resolution satellite photos, with the Sept. 24 launch of Space Images' Ikonos. Not much new, but well written and all in one place. References Clarke's 2061, Brin's Transparent Society, and ties it all up with a heartwarming 1st Amendment ribbon. Definitely worth a read."
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Implications of Commercial 1m Res Satellite

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  • by duder ( 86761 )
    The study of space was once part of physics- so was chemistry. But now they have been reduced to stamp collecting
  • All the advances in satelite communications and visualization really do raise the possibilty of a space arms race, perhaps with china. While such an arms race might be tense it could be one of the most beneficial things to happen to the development of space.

    Unfortunatly it appears the only way the US government can be induced to give adequate research funding is if they see a necessery milatary purpose. Perhaps these type of satelite events will give it to them.

    P.S. You know it is just a matter of time b4 someone puts up the redmond cam. Or plots the location of CmdrTaco on the US map with aid of tehse satelites. The obsesives of the world will love it.

  • I smell marketing opportunities.. Kinda the same way that your local phone company has to be paid not to list your name in the phone book.. I'm sure someone will have the bright idea to offer people the ability to block the satellite from taking pictures of their homes for $30/sq ft or something. Perhaps law-enforcement agencies will be purchasing the right to view certain areas on a continual basis.. Hmm. :)


    This kind of thing isn't going to make me go out and install a giant mirror over my home pointing back up into orbit. The CIA (you know..the real one..not the one on TV) has had this sort of technology at its disposal for decades. However... It never ceases to amaze me how many people scream bloody murder about privacy. I wouldn't care if the police set up 10 satellites all looking down on my poor little apartment. I don't do anything illegal to begin with -- why the hell should I care?

    flame invitation(off);

    Bowie J. Poag

  • Anyone have any more URL's on this.

    I'm interested in the cost of such a thing, and how it would work to get the picture you want. Do I really need a 640m x 480m shot of Area 51??? What is the GPS location of it anyways?
  • What's this I hear about the Russians parachuting film to Earth? Do they drop it from satellites or spy planes? I'm not grokking this. Anyone got clarification?

    The Russians still parachute their film to earth; under ideal conditions a picture is available nine days after it is shot, and the wait has been known to take months.
  • Hmm, speaking of mirrors... How about setting up large deflectors to point at the location of those sattelites so they get some nice direct sunlight into their optics? Of course, the sat would have to be looking down at you, but if you are paranoid, you might try this as a sat DoS attack.

    OK, just fooling around with weird ideas; probably wouldnt work anyway but the picture in my mind was just too tempting. :P
  • I'd like to see what my brother's house looks like from space. I'd just make sure that I emailed him and tell him to wave up at the sky at about noon his time. Very creative way to make some money I would say. I just wonder how much it actually costs to put a satellite into space and whether or not they could make a good return on such an investment. As far as the fishing thing goes, looking into the water to find the best fishing spot I feel will not be it's highest market area.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    IIRC, they drop it from the satellites. It has a transponder, and as soon as it re-enters the atmosphere and slows to the point where ground stations can read the transponder, they go up in a plane and catch the thing in mid-air, using a big net. Sounds screwy, I know, but true. The US used to use the same technique before it was feasible to digitize the data and transmit it from space. -luge
  • I mean really... Even if terrorists got pictures of some important place (c'mon, think of one...) how could that possibly give them an advantage?
    Surely someone out there has thought this through...

    And as far as someone seeing you, I kinda think of 1-meter resolution as not very good. If you think about it: I'm standing in my front yard. Will the optics see the pick dot or will it see the green that takes up most of the space around me? Chances are it will see only brown (my lawn).
  • Ok, here's a counter to your argument:

    Just because everything you do is legitimate, does that mean you want everything you do published? Do you send all of your snail-mail on post cards or in transparent envelopes? If no, why not? It's all perfectly legitimate. Do you want everyone in the world to be able to read your e-mail?

    Personally, I do not... then again, I'm not horribly worried about anyone viewing my place of living with satellites. Best they'll ever manage is seeing me walking to and from my car... but that does not mean I want a web-cam set up in my bedroom or at my front door, so people can see when I'm home or not.

    Rion Wulfe
  • You can go to Space Imaging's web site at http://www.spaceimaging.com
    You can get some archived low-res satellite images from http://origin.eosat.com (registration required)
  • Well, that airport photo looked great in the article. I wonder what it's real potential is :) I would be intriuged to see what we can really do with satelite imagery (and how they would avoid problems such as clouds. Will Seattle or a smoggy location not work?

    Just a thought.

  • Suppose you do nothing illegal then why do you care about people seeing your mail? Because you fear social stigma for your belifs or your habits etc.. Nonconformity could be dangerous, if your boss finds out you are a pervert he might fire you.

    The ironic thing about this is that EVERYONE wants their mail private. EVERYONE is afraid of social stigmatization. Now I am saying privacy is a bad idea but if we didn't have privacy people would be forced to become that much more accepting of alternative ideas. I mean imagine that everyone's dirty secrets were out in the open pretty soon no one would care.

    Utopian world I know where you can openly send your mail as long as it isn't illegal.
  • Consider a restraint that Congress, with State Department support, has placed on satellites launched by American companies: it is now illegal to take high-resolution pictures of Israel.
    I didn't realize that US legal jurisdiction had been extended to a small chunk of orbital space above the other side of the planet. The author did note that this restriction could be easily surmounted by incorporating in someplace like the Cayman Islands -- why even bother passing legislation of this sort? Trying to increase the degree of ZOG paranoia amongst white supremacists?
  • The potential for Orwellian-like traffic analysis is getting too big. Better make sure you're indistinguishable from above

    I'll start being concerned when they make us start putting licence numbers on car roofs. The major flaw in your concern is the idea of tasking. You have a sattelite whipping around the earth, at a half hour interval, so you only get one shot every half hour at locating the target. That makes traffic analysis a touch (impossible?) hard. Now if we were talking about a series of geo-stationairy satt's then it would be possible, but you'd hog, all the tasking time doing something like that.

    Thank Eris for Clouds!

  • Shoot. They already have these capabilities without the stupid satellites. They are starting to put cameras on every street corner in major cities. The claim is that the cameras are used for "traffic flow analysis," but whats to stop them from using them for something like you state?

    For those who don't believe me: if you live in the Metro Detroit Area, check out two things: 1) WXYZ-TVs new traffic cameras for major freeways (they use cameras put into the new LED billboards on the freeways) and 2) the cameras at say, 9-mile and Haggerty, or the ones that have been in place for YEARS on I-75, near the Rochester curve.

    (Sorry, I have no point of reference if you don't live in Detroit :-( )

  • by Anonymous Coward
    This is what makes Ikonos a geopolitical milestone. Able to discern objects only a few feet wide - to see at "one-meter resolution"

    One meter resolution from 600 kilometers in space is not the same as one meter resolution from 1 kilometer high. The spectrum used is highly susceptible to atmospheric dust. Just because the pixels are "one meter" doesn't mean that you will actually get that resolution. In general, IKONOS imaging target will have only %20 chance of being cloud-free, much less dust free.

    Among the ambivalent: high-tech nations, like Israel, with low-tech enemies, and sole-remaining-superpowers accustomed to kicking around tinhorn dictators.

    Israel against it? They are very active in commercializing their high resolution "spy" satillites. Perhaps they just don't want Americans competing with them :)

    the United States is struggling to preserve a strategic edge

    The US has a huge advantage in "spy" satillites. Their military competitors are way behind. But, the commercial technology is so wide spread that third world nations like India, France and China compete in the market. The strategic implications are small in improved commercial satillites.

    Unlike the 10-meter images available from the French SPOT satellites and the 5-meter images available from India, the pictures from Ikonos will get analysts close enough to discern missile launchers and tanks and distinguish between fighter planes and bombers.

    The 5-meter resolution of the Indian satillites and the two meter Russians' resolution is adequate for distinguishing those features.

    If you don't want the people looking at your backyard: 1) check out the satillite's orbit 2) when it comes over angle a big mfking mirror and use the sun to temporarily blind the optics of the satillite or 3) build decoys to confuse the morons analyzing the picture. You can tell a fake tank from a real tank at that alititude.

    Oh yeah, and sleep tight, spys can tell more about you using old fashioned foot work than with satillites.
  • why even bother passing legislation of this sort?

    For the same reason they cripple encryption, rocket launches, etc... Let's hobble our stateside companies TO the benefit of outside nations. We have vastly superior intellect you know (BIG SARCASM). It still amazes me the arrogance of our government towards technology. Sure we have a big step ahead of many nations in many areas, but how long will that last. Why would we want piss away the tax revenue generated from any of these products (Rockets, software, Satellite, etc)? I for one don't know, but I do continue to write my the people who represent me in gov't. I suggest others to do the same.
  • This Microsoft web page houses the highly useful and precise 1m resolution photos from the USGS and SPIN-2.

    The images are out of date, but publicly available. I'm not sure why a private satellite would me more troubling than these photos (and the updated ones as they are added to the collection).

    Check it out. [microsoft.com]

  • by nstrug ( 1741 ) on Sunday September 05, 1999 @07:27AM (#1702222) Homepage
    Satellite repeat intervals are a function of swath width - which itself is a direct function of resolution. Low resolution sensors, such as AVHRR on the NOAA platforms and the project we're working on, MODIS, have a 24hr5 repeat, but they also have a spatial resolution of 1km - great for vegetation mapping, surface BRDF/albedo, ice, cloud studies, ocean colour etc. Not so good for spying.

    High resolution sensors such as Landsat TM (25m) and SPOT PAN (10m) have repeat rates of the order of 28 days, as will the new generation of 1m satellites. Actually SPOT has a tilting sensor which gives it a revisit facility as well as the option of producing stereo pairs. This is also a feauture of the new satellites.The repeat period (a month) means that you cannot use these satellites for the kind of surveillance that a lot of people worry about. Combine this with the fact that 80% of the Earth's surface is cloud-covered at any time and you'll see what I mean. These sensors have no thermal infrared capabilities at this resolution so you can't use them for spotting tanks or anything like that. You CAN use it to spot semi-permanent structures such as missile launchers and dug-in tanks - but you've been able to do this with SPOT for a long time.

    Another note on resolution - there is a theoretical limit on spatial resolution, determined by atmospheric scattering. It's about 15cm. So a spy sattelite, on a perfectcly clear day, could, just about, be used to tell what kind of car you are driving - certainly not to read the number plate (which is kind of hard from a nadir view anyway). Forget geostationary satellites - they sit at an altitude of 35800km over the equator which means you get oblique views of most stuff, and lousy resolution (15km). They're great for synoptic weather (and telecomms obviously) but that's about it.

    The people who should be worrying about the new high-res satellites are the air-survey crews. This could well put them out of a job for medium-scale photogrammetric surveying.

    Nick Yes

    I am a PhD student in remote sensing...

  • It is nice to see an American newspaper showing such understanding of a very important issue. I really wish we would see this kind of mainstream publication around the crypto issue (which for now is a lot more important - and really shares a lot with this debate (the long term vs short term esp.))

    I'm not sure the transparency is all good though. As long as we are not able to excersise individual freedom, but are forced by violence into the obedience of autocratic governments (regardless of whether they are controlled by a dictator, corrupt lobbyists, or >50% of the population) letting the very people that we allow to dictate our lives know all about is very dangerous. Society as it exists works because we can get away with breaking the rules (smoking up, speeding, whatever).

    However, like online piracy, and like crytography, and like a million other technologies that conservatives have deemed dangerous, this is not a matter of choice. We are not in a position to choose whether we like this or not - having an opinion is futile. Transparency is the future, like it or not, for better or worse.

    It is my belief that was has to go is our current regimes. It is they, not itself, that turns transparency into a nightmare. For the "global village" that the article discusses to be real (and we all no that in a real village things can get pretty harsh for the weak and deviant - it is all but a utopia), power, and freedom must be evenly distributed among us and we will have to learn to rule ourselfs. For better or worse.

    /. is like a steer's horns, a point here, a point there and a lot of bull in between.
  • What does a '5 meter resolution' satellite deliver? From the airport photos I guess it does not mean 'one pixel corresponds to 5 meters', it's finer.

    Another thing: Why should 'closed' countries like North Korea have more to loose with these publicly available shots? I'm quite sure US reconnaissence watches them tightly, so what's the difference for them?

    One more question: What resolution does state-of-the-art technology deliver? This probably can only be guessed - maybe an AC wants to elaborate on this ;-)
  • There's a theoretical limit (determined by the scale length of atmospheric turbulence) of 15cm. It is safe to assume that surveillance satellites operate at this resolution. Of course, they would only actually obtain this resolution on very calm, clear days with a stable atmosphere.

    Oh and they can't see through clouds either... (active microwave can but that's a different matter)


  • by Anonymous Coward
    Define "illegal." Ie., right now nothing you do is illegal. But with improved surveillance, it's not inconceivable that political dissidence is made illegal. It's not like it's never been done before. So unless you plan to go along with whatever the government says, no matter how autocratic, arbitrary, and despotic they become--unless, that is, you intend to be a child who is willing to have all decisions made for you, because Daddy knows best--you should consider the possibility that maybe, someday, you might not want the government to have too much power to control your life.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    >There's a theoretical limit (determined by the scale length of atmospheric turbulence) of 15cm.

    Nick, a few questions:

    What wavelength corresponds to that limit?

    What does a plot of theoretical limit vs wavelength look like over the range far IR to UV? (ie, big divot at OH absorption, I'd guess)

    Aren't there techniques (laser "false star") used by ground-based telescopes to get around atmospheric distortion, and can't they be used to enhance satellite resolution?

  • From the NSA database:

    info: Slashdot AC identity
    user: bgates
    name: Sir William Gates 3rd
    title(s): Holy Knight Inquisitor, Lord of Darkness Version 3.0, Bearer of 32nd Order of Fries
    host: nicepants.microsoft.com
    d.o.p.: 05-09-99 12:17 EDT
    OS: Linux Mandrake 6.1
    NSA payoff balance: 15,503,230,390.42
    Rating: A1 Super

    Notes: Had 4 typo's, used Backspace 5 times.
    Hands on keyboard are dirty.
    Body odor index of 15.5 during post.
    Has not brushed teeth in 45.3 hours.
    Last consumed food item: Oreo's and Milk.

    Account debited $1.
    New Balance: 15,503,230,389.42

    Don't you have better things to do, Bill?
  • Do I really need a 640m x 480m shot of Area 51??? What is the GPS location of it anyways?

    It's around N 37 degrees 27 minutes, by W 115 degrees 44 minutes.

    And they're not called GPS coordinates, they're called longitude and latitude.


  • Jeff Harris - Space Imaging President and former director of the top secret National Reconnaissance Organization, until they got busted with an unexplicable amount of cash (~$4.5B) around the same time the CIA was linked with selling crack in the streets.

    John Copple - Space Imaging CEO and Chairman of the Board of Directors. Former Comptroller (aka CFO) for Garland Texas based E-Systems. Once referred to the commercial division of the CIA in a 60 Minutes documentary.

  • Isn't it interesting this [microsoft.com] is as close as you can get to seeing microsoft...

    According to the map on Expedia mirosoft is here [expediamaps.com]. My how interesting that the sattelite seems to have missed the microsoft campus by mere blocks!

    obviously there isn't anything to worry about here.... =8)

  • Personally, I cannot speak for other's views/feelings, I do have some concern there, though it's not for social stigmata reasons. IF someone asks me personal questions, I'm usually willing to answer them... but they must ask me personally, not peruse my personal correspondence. You do bring up a good point though.

    Though, I counter with this: What if the powers that be decide that no one can send private messages, and that all private forums of discussion shall be abolished, for the 'higher good' of making us all accept one another? What's more likely to happen, that people will form togather in a great Brotherhood of Man, or that people will become even more segregated to protect themselves from the enforced sociality? Humanity is, by nature, a very xenomorphic entity. Most attempts to make everyone accept one another (beyond the usual level, and even /that/ fails quite often) is usually met with extream distaste, fear, loathing, and attack.

    Rion Wulfe
  • As much as I hate to indirectly promote M$ website, checkout the Terraserver [microsoft.com]. It's pretty cool, even though the pictures are a little on the old side, the resolution isn't that good, and for some reason they just miss my house by a few miles- but thats a Good Thing(tm) right! :)

    Also they try to make you use a M$ browser to print the Images. Bah! /Me uses print screen :)

  • That's a general limit across the solar reflective spectrum (400-4000 nm). The atmospheric effects involved in remote sensing are:
    • Raleigh scattering - molecular scattering from gaseous atmospheric species. Goes as one over lambda to the 4. This is the reason why 'blue' spectral bands are useless for actually looking at the surface - it's also why the sky is blue...
    • Aerosol scattering - this is all those pesky dust particles, water droplets and ice particles. generally asymmetric. Can be modelled using Mie theory. Rainbows are an obvious side effect.
    • Absorption - the obvious ones - H2O, CO2 some trace gases. All these species have different absorption spectra - H2O (vapour) has two massive absorption bands in the mid-IR. Aerosols also absorb. UV absorption is behind the O3 layer.
    Another effect to take into account is that maximum radiance is at about 550 nm - you're severly limited past the NIR by the fact that there ain't that much energy coming back up at you - which hurts resolution. Much the same for thermal IR (80m resolution) and passive microwave (tens of km) where the amount of enery is miniscule.

    The false star technique relies on shining a laser upwards against an essentially black background. To do the same thing with a satellite you would have to fire the laser downwards - and make sure it lands on a surface with perfectly predictable spectral response. So short of lugging a massive square of BaSO4 around I don't see how this can be done. Also - the footprint of the laser would be a lot bigger than the resolution you are going for. And mounting a 1200W laser on a satellite could be kinda tricky...

    Good questions though.


  • In his 1987 novel, "2061: Odyssey Three," Clarke envisioned a time when, with everyone keeping an eye on everyone else, surprise attacks would be impossible and war among great powers unthinkable.

    This strikes me as wrong, similar to when a gun control opponent states that "an armed society is a polite society." The peace envisioned in both concepts is not tranquility as a result of us being better, more morally evolved beings, but order imposed by fear and force. Not that constant, unpreventable war and strife are any better; I just think there's a better way to reduce conflict among us.

    For some reason, the Vorlons spring to mind.

    Perhaps I'm dreaming; perhaps I'm not being realistic, a "bleeding-heart liberal" as some might say. That might be a correct assessment; still, I think to truly reduce the threat of war, we have to learn, on our own, how to get along with each other. We can't rely on "solutions" imposed upon us by those with more power. I can easily imagine "everyone keeping an eye on everyone else" and "armed society = polite society" degenerating into "might makes right, as does control." I greatly respect Clarke's intelligence and wisdom, but in my heart I cannot agree with him on this issue.

  • Umm, yeah but having revisit means that you can image the same swath from either adjacent swath. For SPOT this means that you get three shots per 28 day period. But those three shots are all on consecutive days - so if there happens to be a depression sitting over your target you're stil SOL.


  • How do you suppose we're going to become better, more morally evolved beings? As a "bleeding-heart liberal" I'm assuming you're not suggesting a spirtual revolution, and government-imposed rules don't seem to have helped us very much. The only thing I see making much of a difference to our "moral evolution" is technology. With the internet on the one hand (much greater capabilities for intercommunication) and these satellites (transparency) on the other, we seem to be heading to a new global village-like form of society anyway.

    The gun people advocate the crudest civilizing influence - direct force. These satellites simply make information available - "the pen is mightier than the sword" - seems all to the good to me.

    Since other science fiction quotes came up, I'd like to mention what came to my mind reading this - Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game" sequel, "Speaker for the Dead." One of the most powerful parts of that book is the story of Novinha's family, warped by lies from the start, and strangely healed by Ender publicly speaking the shameful truth. I'll never be able to justify lying for somebody's good again after reading that book. I think this "transparency" issue is much the same thing - the truth is always to the good, and more is better. Much of the same philosophy that goes into Open Source too...

    -- Arthur
  • You have to _pay_ to get your name out of the phone book? You guys really need some privacy laws enacted.
  • It is surprising to see such a small array of replies to this article, since it ties in dearly with conventional privacy issues. But if you think about it, this article present a conflict to most (the stereotypical) slashdot readers (the ones who post the majority of the comments).

    Lets look at the good points of symmetric transparency. It promotes commercial interest, openness, and is 'inevitable'. These are often-stated cases for the lifting of export restriction on encryption products. They tend to have good-conotations with the typical Slashdot reader. So "hooray!" some readers will think. I'm all for this.

    Now let's look at the other side. Symmetric transparency destroys privacy. Let's assume that at some point, satellites are capable of much more. They can see through brick walls, have real-time downloading of video, etc. At this point, privacy is totally destroyed. "Arg!", the hermit Slashdot reader thinks. "This is not so good!"

    But how are we to regulate this commercialism and trade free of government restrictions if we want to maintain privacy? First suggestion that comes to mind, "Let the government regulate it!". Hrm. Age-old story with encryption products here relived. So what can we do?

    I don't have answer. Well, maybe I do. My answer is to change your mindset about privacy. Privacy isn't all it's cracked up to be. Stop placing value on this vague idea of seclusion. Your privacy isn't absolute. What you consider privacy today won't be private 50 years from now; then, new standards of privacy will have evolved. For example, I don't consider any static information about me as private. My whereabouts, past, and any information older than 6 months ago is not protected with tooth and dagger. What I do work to keep private in today's age is my communications, which why I work to secure communications (email, IRC, etc). But this will change in the future, too.
  • Satellite picture of Microsoft [microsoft.com] was available by clicking on some of the "Other Dates" links to the side of your image.
  • The way I understand it, one's always free not to subscribe to phone service.

  • Hmm, I thought stochastic resonance relied on the presence of a regular periodic signal (e.g. spring green-up of vegetation)? I'm not sure if the sudden appearence or dissapearence of an object in the scene would be compatible with stochatic resonance methods...

    BTW, what's your background - any reason why you're posting as an AC?

    Thinking about your false star suggestion. We DO use field targets for calibration - the AVHRR sensors are calibrated off White Sands. However this is purely for instrument drift. One other problem I had is that false star relies on you having a deformable mirror and this would be very hard to do in micro-gravity.


  • I am a programmer for a photogrammetric company (aerial surveying). Most of my work involves developing applications to correct for lens fall-off, brightness gradient, and sun flares in scanned aerial photography. I've been doing this bit for almost six years now and have been hearing from day one how these new up-and-coming high resolution imaging satellites would make our aircraft obsolete. From everything I've seen, its mostly marketing hype. 1m resolution is just that, 1 pixel == 1m x 1m, there is not a lot you can see in something that coarse. Sure roads, buildings, and cars are visible, but that is about it.

    Have a look at some NAPP photography if you want to *see* something:

    http://edc.usgs.gov/Webglis/glisbin/guide.pl/gli s/hyper/guide/napp

  • Much, much finer resolution aerial imagery has been available for decades. What's the big deal about a 1m satellite?
  • How do you suppose we're going to become better, more morally evolved beings?

    By making mistakes, learning what are good, helpful things to do, and what are nasty, harmful things to do. Maybe having some enlightenend members of our species to give us some suggestions along the way. That's the eventual goal, anyway. Unattainable, perhaps, but something worth working toward.

    As a "bleeding-heart liberal" I'm assuming you're not suggesting a spirtual revolution, and government-imposed rules don't seem to have helped us very much

    Ah, I only said some people might call me a bleeding-heart for thinking such things; I'm really not sure how to classify myself. And a spiritual revolution just might be what the witch doctor ordered, though political power movements masquerading as spiritual crusades don't cut it; crews like Focus on the Family and the Christian Coalition are out for power, trying to gain power to impose order. Again, order for the wrong reasons. Christ, Siddharta Gautama, and Mohandas Ghandi (whose political crusade had a morally right purpose, not a goal of personal power) were on the right track. Pat Robertson and Gary Bauer most certainly are not.

    The gun people advocate the crudest civilizing influence - direct force. These satellites simply make information available - "the pen is mightier than the sword" - seems all to the good to me.

    It's still about might; who has the control, who has the bigger gun or the sharper eye. What I envision to be a "good" peace is one where people agree not to attack or harm each other, because inside they genuinely know and believe that's not how to survive, not how our species will survive. Once again, perhaps its fantasy, but there's still a lot of time left for this to become reality:)

    Technology is only a tool that can be used for good, or for evil. Like all tools, it can be controlled, kept from those whom the controllers feel aren't worthy of using it, or don't have enough wealth to use it. The promise offered by this technology is not truth, but voyeurism. It's like someone looking over your shoulder all the time.

    One of the most powerful parts of ("Speaker for the Dead") is the story of Novinha's family, warped by lies from the start, and strangely healed by Ender publicly speaking the shameful truth. I'll never be able to justify lying for somebody's good again after reading that book.

    Understand, I'm not advocating lying for others, but having some privacy, time and space where oneself can't be watched. I've never read either "Ender's Game" or "Speaker for the Dead", so I can't speak for Ender's motivations, but would I be correct in surmising that his revelation of the truth was a moral decision, reached by himself? He wasn't forced to be truthful because someone was watching him to make sure he did it? That sort of thing is what I consider right; revealing truth, however shameful or painful, because it's the right thing to do. An internally-imposed order, as opposed to an externally-imposed one.

    I think this "transparency" issue is much the same thing - the truth is always to the good, and more is better.

    But again, it's a form of external control. If we learn anything from this, it will be that giving some people the power to watch others, and dole out that information for money, is a bad idea. The development of true telepathy would be a much better development; until then, self-control and self-restraint are far better forms of order than someone watching our movements.

    As an aside, somehow I also advocate Open Source, free information, and cracking for knowledge. The open source is a no-brainer; people agreeing to share information and code to make it better is a Good Thing©. Same with free information; knowledge is good when everyone (everyone) benefits. Why the last, I don't know. Am I a hypocrite, or is it just a case of "Robin Hood" syndrome?

  • Argh, the link I posted above is mostly info oriented and the scans there are probably comparable to a 5m or 10m satellite image. PhotoScience has some better air-photo examples here:


  • While I can't speak for the bosses, there are Slashdot readers at Space Imaging.

    We are you.

    Keep up the posts. I died laughing over a lot of these last April.

    Necron69 - J. Scott Farrow
    Unix Systems Administrator
  • by Anonymous Coward
    There is one major flaw in the article that invalidates most of the conclusions. Authors assumes that giving a hi-res image to an ordinary man will allow that man to recognize immediately tanks, aircraft, etc. WRONG! You must have scores of trained and experienced personnel to do it. Are there many such professionals out? Nope. And interpretation of satellite imagery is a difficult and expensive process requiring millions of dollars to start with. You cannot do much by just looking at the image, you must have special hardware and software, you must have training and experience. So I think that at least for the first decade after hi-res imagery becomes available, military advantage will go to aggressive countries that have been watching their neighbors for a long time and have intelligence infrastructure in place.
  • Another thing: Why should 'closed' countries like North Korea have more to loose with these publicly available shots? I'm quite sure US reconnaissence watches them tightly, so what's the difference for them?

    The U.S. isn't the only country closed societies have an interest in keeping data from. U.S. intel agencies, like most intel agencies, don't like sharing information with other intel agencies of their own government, like sharing with non-spooks in their own government even less, and can barely stand sharing data with other nations that have been their close allies for decades.

    So, for example, commercial satellites could give Turkey data on Syria, Iraq, and Iran that it previously had to hope to get from the U.S.; and it could give Syria, Iran, and Iraq data on each other that none of them could get anywhere else.

    Similarly, South Korea and the Japanese probably don't get all the data they would like from the U.S. regarding North Korea -- and China and Russia certainly don't.
  • I stand corrected. I still think it's funny it cut -off right there.

    maybe microsoft isn't building a nuclear missle silo though, after all =8)
  • Simple. You, me, and anybody else can now get this info on areas with restricted airspace and without violating a country's soverignty. Which essentially amounts to third-world nations now having access data on troop movements and miliary installations behind the borders of their immediate neigbors.
  • It's still about might; ... What I envision to be a "good" peace is one where people agree not to attack or harm each other, because inside they genuinely know and believe that's not how to survive, not how our species will survive.

    Perhaps I'm a cynic, but I think what you're hoping for is sufficiently contrary to our own biological imperatives that it will never happen until our environment forces it upon us, and this kind of technology may be part of that forcing.

    Technology is only a tool that can be used for good, or for evil. Like all tools, it can be controlled, ...

    The point of all this is that it cannot be controlled - this information will be very cheaply available, and there will be half a dozen or more of these satellites up there under completely different (private corporate) control. We've had the controlled version of these satellites and other spying techniques owned by our and other governments for years - it's nothing new that people can spy on us from above (or listen in on our phone conversations, or monitor the radio transmissions from our computer displays, etc. etc.) what's different here is that at least some of this observational power is to be commercially sold to anybody who wants it. Not what you seem to be claiming at all.

    The promise offered by this technology is not truth, but voyeurism. It's like someone looking over your shoulder all the time.

    Kind of like God to the old-fashioned Christian? But it's more than that - it's God plus the ability of your neighbor to ask Him what you're up to (for a fee)! Of course these satellites don't have sufficient resolution for anything truly voyeuristic - and there may be good reason to build in individual privacy concerns into this kind of technology. But transparency at the larger scale is I think an excellent idea.

    And even in private lives it might be a good (though scary) thing - think how relieved we would be of certain political naughtiness if either (A) they knew they were being watched and didn't do some of the naughty things they were later caught on or (B) they knew they were being watched and couldn't lie about it for months on end until the truth came out or (C) they could buy some old pictures showing their opponents doing the exact same thing... Complete transparency would change how we live and we're probably not ready for it, but we really ought to be ready for it at the level at which these satellites work.

    -- Arthur
  • I used cypherpunks for both, and got right in. (note the 's' at the end)

  • by Rotten ( 8785 ) on Sunday September 05, 1999 @03:33PM (#1702272) Journal
    For 4 years I've been working on Remote sensing. I feel that there's a missconception about satellite imagery. 1m resolution is not so "Hi Res" imagery. Same imagery has been around for years in form of aerial photography, let's say, for more than 40 years. Yes, the times have changed, now images are processed and used with computers, you have powerfull geographic information systems, etc...but privacy is still the same... There's no way that 1m resolution can be used to see french girls topless in ibiza, or if you are wearing red shirts or even if you read marx or bradbury... 1m resolution can show if you built a new room in your house, or if that nice swiming pool you built in your house is big or small. Just like walking and watching from the street... In military applications, every government of the planet knows the satellite orbits, and no one will test that "hot new tank" while the satellite is above them. Russians knew that US planes and satellites were taking images during the cold war, and funny things happened, but I can't remember a serious discovery in the intelligence field, when everybody knew what was going around. Maybe in the first years it was secret, but quickly it became obvious that imagery was just a control tool, nor a real secret eye in the space. This reminds me "The Simpsons" when the goverment guys say they don't know where monty burns hides the 1 billion dollars note, but sattelites show that is not in the roof...that's the real thing... Real privacy violations are coming, but not 1m resolution images...maybe electromagnetic scaning of monitors activity, or laser microphones targeted to our windows, but...jejeje...not ikonos from the space... just my 2 cents...
  • GRASS, an open source software package, running in a pentium with 32Mb Ram, a cd-reader and a 14" monitor can take you to the point where if you know that planes have wings, that tanks are cars with cannons on top and that a building in the center with 5 little buildings around are AA systems, you are a junior satellite image interpreter...
    Just remember, roads and cables lead to buildings. And if a road dissapears in the middle of nothing, maybe there's an underground bunker there...
    Talking seriously, maybe I can't recognize a missile launch facility, but if you show anybody a tank from above, it don't get many skills to recognize it...
  • And this is an average over the entire 1m square, so a person standing up would not have a great impact. It is aerial photography that is something that more people should worry about.

    1000m flying height
    230mm x 230mm Film
    between 87 and 152mm focal length (generally)

    87 mm lens

    ~70 degrees at the focal point

    Scanned at 7.5 microns (i.e., 10e-6 m), giving a resolution of 1 cm on the ground....

    Just think of all the helicopters that fly around and what could be done.....
    Note: This is what I recall from my photogrammetry class. Please correct if wrong.
  • Northern Virginia has those cameras all over the place. Radio and Television news stations *do* use them for traffic reporting, but it's not a large stretch of the imagination to think they could be used by other groups. Chris
  • To be perfectly pedantic I think you mean 'xenophobic' not 'xenomorphic'. One is being afraid of others, and the other one was in the Alien(s) movies.
  • No, It all depends on how the privacy is removed. Consider the fact that many people lead veyr open non-secretive lives. Certainly we must admit that it is possible to get along without huge numbers of secrets.

    Usually if government or some organization removes privacy it is for the purpose of policing inappropriate private response but there is no reason that lack of privacy can't do the opposite.

    Homosexuals coming out of the closet and declaring themselves are divesting themselves of the privacy of their sexual inclinations and by doing so INCREASE the acceptance of alternitive viewpoints.

    It is the small targeted privacy invasions which are the problems. It is when one group's privacy is violated while the oppresors privacy and the shady doings they have remain hidden which causes problems
  • The traffic cameras mentioned above...

    The little reciever pods generally placed about 1/4 mile before weigh stations on the interstates...

    The "you are driving too fast" signs; if you've seen one you know what I'm talking about...

    The continued, unmolested existance of these things is a mystery. They're not watched, generally. Have we all become so spineless as to tolerate this crap? Is there no urge for constructive vandalism anymore?
  • There is a HUGE problem with using NYT articles that some here seem to forget. People who read slashdot from sites behind proxies which filter cookies can NOT access NYT articles, account or not. Many of us do not have access to reconfiguring the proxies. (I am behind such a proxy myself on occasion.)
  • "Sign up already!" isn't an option for those of us behind proxies that filter cookies or have other restrictions on cookies between us and the NYT site. (Why must some people ass-u-me their configuration is universal among slashdotters anyway?)
  • Here is NZ, you are also free to determine the disposition of personal information, which is what a phone listing is.
  • This article mentions at least one Russian spy sat takes pictures onto film and drops it off by parachute. In today's digital-everything age, this sound really strange. Obviously the sats are pretty old, but it sounds like they are still operational. How much film (and parachutes) can you stick on one of those things? Do they have a missions for reloading them? I've never heard of anything like that. Anyone with more info on this, please post.
  • Apart from Atmospheric effects there is a fundamental limitation to the resolution: diffraction.

    From geometrical optics one would expect that a "point" on the ground is focused by the lens to form a "point" in the imaging plane. This is not true; because of diffraction a "point" is not focused to a "point" but to an "Airy-disk", which has a certain non-zero diameter.

    Because of this diffraction, two point-sources that are very close together will be focussed to two overlapping Airy-disks, making it impossible to tell them apart. The minimum distance that points need to be apart in order to see them as two individual points is:

    r = lambda * R / D

    In which r is the distance the points need to be apart, lambda is the wavelength, R is the distance from the lens to the object (in this case the distance satellite to ground) and D is the diameter of the lens.

    An example: assuming visible light (lambda = 550 nm), an orbit height of 400 km and a 1-meter lens, the minimum theoretically resolvable distance of the ground is 22 centimeters. Clearly it isn't of much use to build a lens much larger than this because the atmosperic turbulence would then become the bottleneck.

  • The false star technique relies on shining a laser upwards against an essentially black background. To do the same thing with a satellite you would have to fire the laser downwards - and make sure it lands on a surface with perfectly predictable spectral response. So short of lugging a massive square of BaSO4 around I don't see how this can be done.

    A friend works for Mt. Wilson observatory, and as I understand it they've had great success with adaptive optics wihtout the laser, and they end up getting some images that are better than hubble for such things as asteroids.

    The military/cia/whoever must have been using this sort of thing for some time, as the limits of non-adaptive optics are painfully obvious from the get-go, and they've had the money to dump into the research a lot longer than the scientific community has.

  • Do you really imagine that if the government really did become despotic, they would refrain from surveilance because you didn't like it ? I really cannot see the logic here.

    Resources that can be beneficial in the hands of a a broadly liberal state (look it up, OK, it doesn't mean what you think) are the tools of oppression under a tyranny. You don't avoid tyrrany by binding the hands of the liberal state. The more you make it impossible for necessary government to do its job, the more likely it is your moronic fellow countrymen will support unnecessary government.
  • An AC wrote:

    You have never read 1984 etc I must assume. Privacy is a fundamental basis of humanity. Take away that, and all the rest will follow. Why not individuality next? who needs that? we are all good at heart, so lets take down our walls and drone for the greater good, mindlessly tending the machines of society. No thanks, I'll continue to do my legal activities in the privacy of my own home.

    This is the wrong way round. Tyrannical governments will inevitably violate people's privacy to enforce their tyranny. A government can have spy sattelites and refrain from trying to control what you do in bed just as easily as it can have an army and refrain from trying to block the streets.

  • High resolution imagery is used for mission planning. Multiple images, offset spatially and appropriately orthorectified, with good ephemeris data, yield information about topography. You know how the terrain looks, where the linear features are, what their dimensions are, where the likely security checkpoints and rallying points are. Simply put, information is the key to a successful operation if you're trying to get in, or get a package in.
  • I work every day with satellite data from 10m to 1km and aerial data down to 15cm. At work I have a perfectly ordinary SGI O2 running Erdas Imagine. At home I have a perfectly ordinary home-build AMD K6-2 running ENVI (under linux of course...) I run the full gamut of image processing techniques - all on bog standard hardware.

    There is plenty of free image processing software out there - if you're old school try GRASS [baylor.edu], if you want to get involved in the development of a more modern system try LIMP [remotesensing.org].


  • ...they get commercially or freely available realtiem imagery down to 1 cm resolution. Think of the possibilities: . God could really watch His Cowboys play in Texas Stadium in Irving . We could check out the action on nude beaches :) . You could make *sure* your neighbor kid let the dog out for exercise while you're away
  • The grain size of film is far smaller than that of a CCD element. One can thus get away with a cheaper optical train to deliver the same detectable information at the focal plane. There are no reloading missions. You use what you send up - the orbit is usually hyperbolic and the mission therefore of relatively short duration.
  • Handy to use terrorist resource? or tourist guide?
  • Handy to use terrorist resource?
    or tourist guide?
  • I work at Macdonald Dettwiler, the Canadian company building Radarsat-2, and I am confused as to why nasa doesn't want to launch our satellite, considering that we are a wholly owned subsidiary of Orbital Sciences of Dulles, Virginia. Oh well, plenty of other countires with launch capabilities.
  • Wish I'd paid attention to whether I was hitting "submit" or "preview"
  • At least some of the photorecon satellites in the Cosmos series were based on the old Vostok design (remember Gargarin?). The cameras and film were in the spherical cabin section, and the whole lot parachuted down for a landing in central asia.
  • Actually you do not violate any laws while driving, you only violate statutes. If you declared yourself a Sovereign(sp?) Citizen (atleast in the US) you can legally drive at as fast as you want on the freeways as long as your not endangering any one else.

    It's amazing how many rights we have willingly given up in this little old country.
  • some surplus camo netting from your favorite army-navy surplus store should work to obscure your house from satellite view. just make sure it matches the surrounding area... i.e., in Seattle don't use Desert cammo, and don't use woodland cammo in Phoenix... Or, more subtle, but this'll take a lot of time, and won't work in some areas, grow some big evergreen trees around your house, such that the crown obscures the outline of your house. But it'll only really worry your home insurance agent, not make everyone think that you take what Art Bell, et al., have to say too seriously, the way camo netting will.

    the mirror trick might work good if you had it on a motorized mount to aim the sun straight up during the day, in theory. But they probably have good enough filters anyways.

  • I think a false-color picture taken by SPOT (the French company) was plastered on some Popular Mechanics issue or something.

    Hasn't SPOT been selling 1-m resolution pictures for some time?
  • Umm... in visible spectrum being able to discern tanks is a BFD. Freak the Govment out. Make some fake M-1 tanks and put them in your backyard.

    w/o multispectral (i.e., IR), that fake M-1 tank won't look any different than a real M-1.

    Now, let's talk about millimeter-wave radar...
  • Hmm... do you think the "artificial star" technique used by active-mirror astronomical mirror telescopes could be used in reverse by spy KH-class spy satellites to compensate for atmospheric turbulence?
  • ....and, if you're really paranoid, you'll know the orbital "numbers" of that satellite. You'll know when it's watching you, and when it's watching someone else. Oddly enough, there is a group of people who "satellite spot", and it's not just Space [junk] Command and NASA...

  • A hyperbolic orbit is INDEED short! Should have said elliptical. End of a long day here.
  • Sure, that sounds fine, but it is not usually 'symmetric transparency' that you have to worry about. Do you think the watchers are going to let you watch them?

Would you people stop playing these stupid games?!?!?!!!!