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Sneaky Satellite Photos Available Online 188

Delboy writes "Here's an article from BBC News about a company called Space Imaging which will point their satellite at an area of the planet that you request, take a 1 metre resolution picture and then e-mail it to you the next day, check out this link to read more."
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Sneaky Satellite Photos Available Online

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  • by ZuG ( 13394 ) on Monday February 07, 2000 @05:51PM (#1297088) Homepage Journal
    There are free images available at... hold on.. They are free, and they actually have decent images for the areas that they have covered. The resolution isn't nearly as high as that of this one, but for free I guess you can't complain =)

    Most of the eastern US, I believe is available. Last time I checked, at least.

  • Neat stuff. My grandfather is an aerial chemical applicator (read: spray plane pilot) in North Dakota. I have fond memroies of photocopied, aerial section maps. The resolution was suprisingly good, but nothing would be a 1 meter resolution.

    But, say, some Columbian drug lord wanted to guage build up of DEA forces in area Foo. He could go through a proxy, but how deeply would the company check backgrounds for ppossible nefarious uses?

  • So will they point that sattelite and get pics of that little airforce base 100 miles north of Las Vegas for me?

  • by RickyRay ( 73033 )
    We could see the new models of cars before they're tested on the open road, and could spy on the filming of the next Star Wars movie.
  • Think of the potential!
    You can learn:
    1) What toys the boys bought with their IPO money
    2) What the next version of /. code will look like
    3) Who will by /. next
  • The solution to all our problems is clear. We all get together and create a giant poster with the DeCSS code printed on it in huge letters (enough so that 1m resolution could read them), put it out in the middle of a field somewhere, and have this thing take a picture. I suggest that this picture then be made the official new slashdot logo.
  • Yeah, except all you'll see is a mountain -- they're tricky that way.


    "You can't shake the Devil's hand and say you're only kidding."

  • 1. obtain day job to finance small investment in classified photos of various installations in various countries.
    2. find small, militant country looking for someone to start a fight with.
    3. offer to help country out, for a price
    4. after selling photos, obtain great two-for-one deal on nuclear missiles from a certain former communist country
    5. obtain blast proof bunker and large amounts of supplies
    6. sit back and enjoy the show
  • I have no idea what a 1 m. photograph would look like. But it would be fun if they said the picture would be taken between 10 and 10:30 EST and you could go out with a group of friends and hold a big sign up. or maybe not... just letting my mind wonder...
  • by Accipiter ( 8228 ) on Monday February 07, 2000 @06:06PM (#1297102)
    But Space Imaging, the company that operates Ikonos, will point the satellite at an area you request and have the image e-mailed to you within a day.

    Great! I'd like shots of the following locations, as well as their surrounding areas:

    115-49'00"W 37-14'00"N
    115-44'00"W 37-38'30"N
    115-51'30"W 37-7'30"N
    115-47'30"W 37-16'30"N

    (For the curioius, those Latitude/Longiude numbers are in the vicinity of Nellis Air Force base, the area of Rachel Nevada, Groom Lake, and surrounding parts.)

    -- Give him Head? Be a Beacon?

  • Most of the U.S., period.

    Problem is, they're years old. It seems from the story that they'll take the picture for you on demand.

  • I find this idea could be potentially very harmful in several ways. While the whole novelty of taking pictures of world landmarks is cute, I do see some possible problems.

    First, I wouldnt think it ridiculous for the service to be used for the purpose of plotting terrorist or spy attacks. Considering the military has probably used this technology to map out and survey areas, I could forsee some wannabe terrorists purchasing an aerial map of a large metropolitan city in order to determine where to place a bomb for maximum impact and what to use as an escape route. True, the photos arent detailed enough to be dangerous, but on large scale area, it might be problematic.

    Also, I could forsee this used in the corporate realm for espionage. As a prior poster mentioned jokingly, one could spy on movie screenings and car testings. However I wouldn't be surprised if some companies started investing in satelite pics to scout out the developments of competitors (especially in the defense industry, auto industry, construction industry, and the like).

    Finally, this may be paranoid of me, but I think eventually the technology would get better to the point that personal spying could occur. It doesn't seem realistic, but it is a potential threat to privacy. Imagine being able to spy on your neighbor's daily activities, especially considering the possibility of blackmail or libel as a result of pictures. Maybe the tech could even be used to plan out hits by mapping out the "target's" house and daily activities.

    Yeah I know, this all seems far-fetched, but those are potentially serious issues that could be brought up by the use of what is essentially commericialized spy technology. Just a few thoughts
  • Quick, Honey! Cover the skylight before your parents find out about this company! :-)

    Actually the resolution of 1m is not too invasive, but you might be able to track vehicle movements, etc. Remember when that Yacht was lost in the race around the south pole? I'll bet this satellite could have helped in the search.

  • .. not all of them, at least.

    If you're looking at areas over the United States, you're looking at aerial photography, not satellite images. Specifically, they are DOQs (Digital Orthophoto Quadrangles.) This is aerial photography that is georegistered and then terrain corrected (a digital elevation model is applied to the data to correct for relief.) The spatial resolution is 1 meter, which certainly puts it on par with Ikonos.

    Of course, there's a big difference between satellite data and aircraft data: assuming that you've got the listening infrastructure (antennas and ground stations available worldwide) or a big-ass solid state recorder, acquiring satellite data allows you to assemble more or less a complete archive of data for a selected region or regions. With aerial photography, there's obviously a lot more involved, and clearly you can't have coverage of a single place on Earth updated every (say) eight days! (The exact time period would depend on the orientation of the spacecraft's orbit.) Most of the DOQs provided by the USGS are several years old; very few have "newer versions."

    Oh, and if you're going to be continuously acquiring satellite data, shitloads of storage capacity helps. :-)
  • If Bill G. (or anyone with sufficient funds) wanted to, he could watch anyone, anytime for as long as he wanted just by buying aritime on a service like this. That could be a powerful tool. Maybe too powerful. There is no more such thing as privacy, kids.
  • The article forgot to mention how useful this satellite imaging service is to ecological research. Quite understandable, really, since we tend to get slotted into the queue far below other "Big Money" science. There are many projects at our department, however, for which satellite-quality information of large-scale geographic patterns is very useful: for example, mapping out habitat (vegetation) availability and clinal variation of temperature, etc.

    In fact, a good friend of mine in the Serengeti is using a different satellite technology (GIS -- sorry, but I forget what the acronym translates to) to study the foraging and dispersal behaviour of lions. The take home message is that this is REALLY useful stuff and that there are a lot of us that can't wait for more of those birds to go up.

    When they specify the detection of a 1-metre square area, does this mean that a lawn chair would show up as a big honking off-white 1m2 pixel?
  • I'm not sure what the copyright/ownership of the images you request are, I've only just started looking through the site. I'm not also sure of what the cost is, but never-the-less, all these ideas that ppl have. (Geek Compound, Source Code printed on fields, Area51 etc, etc) would all be great, but make sure you give it out. Post it on your site. It'd be nice to have some kind of board where shots ppl have had taken are posted, or atleast the URLs to them are posted, and others can have a look. Perhaps use slashdot. Say on this board [].

    I think that'd be neat. Cause if I could afford to, I'd snapshot the geek compound.. Taco/Hermos, whats your GPS coords?

    Update - Just found some prices... mmm, very expensive, will have to explore more to get a better idea. If someone figures the prices out clearly, post them please.


  • by Crixus ( 97721 ) on Monday February 07, 2000 @06:22PM (#1297119)
    So will they point that sattelite and get pics of that little airforce base 100 miles north of Las Vegas for me?

    Actually, about 2 years ago when I was reading the* newsgroups regularly there was a reference to a french satellite that was taking pictures (resolution not as good however) and keeping them in a database. They had a web page and you could punch in some coordinates and it would pull up the most recent photo in its database of that area.

    Someone did type in the Area 51 coordinates and when the photo came up you could see a runway. Not much else though due to poorer resolution.

    I just checked some of my old bookmarks and I couldn't find the link. I'll look some more later.

  • Maybe someone should purchase some pictures of Bill Gates at his big fine house. Or maybe he could be caught outside making a deal to take away some user rights.
  • She really needs some lotion for that.. sunblock factor 20+

    - Henrik

    - Henrik
  • The sample images are very impressive. It's terrific to see that yet another space age technology is available for everyone.

    The commercial availability of these kinds of imaging changes so many things. A few off the top of my head:

    • Friends disappeared on a camping trip in the Grand Tetons? Ask Ikonos to photograph the area and find them -- provided they're smart enough to make "obvious" signs in the snow.
    • Environmental groups have a chance to spot illegal construction in places to which they have no legal access.
    • Virtual tourism -- the images are still a bit expensive for random snapshots(!), but what if (for example) space images of Tiannanmen Square had been available on the internet? Talk about a slashdotted site...
    • Virtually everybody can spy on world events. Ever wonder what's really going on in Afghanistan?

    This last aspect will give world governments more accountability about geopolitical "hot spots". When Joe Sixpack (or, at least, Joe Wealthy Sixpack or Earth First! or Greenpeace or International Amnesty) can produce images better than the ones that caused the Cuban Missile Crisis, it will become very hard for dishonest governments (such as our own!) to get away with certain kinds of lies. Of course, the illuminati aren't particularly stupid and will undoubtedly try to regulate or outlaw this stuff.

    In that light, the ``snapper'' of the BBC article is intriguing -- apparently the U.S. government has already outlawed certain kinds of spaceborne photography of Israel? Sheesh, you'd think people would eventually figure out that you can't put the genie back in the bottle. (You turn your back on congress for one session...)

  • ("browse our imagery" link) says "You need Internet Explorer 3.02 or Netscape version 3 or newer!" in response to every attempt to enter something, consists of two boxes that run Windows, some links from them point to "bare" IP address of the same server, has "We're still working on this section." message... lame, especially compared to the technology involved in actually getting images.
  • This is an area where some of the OS & GUI talent might look to for apps to leapfrog wintel desktops.

    Traditionally a unix domain, the business of aquisition, geo-referencing, rectification, enhancement, projection, storage and display of geo(data/imagery) has been migrating towards NT.

    The file sizes are worth pondering, single full colour scanned aerial photos are approx 400Mb, composite colour aerial's of a reasonable sized city are about 32Gb in size, compressable to under 10 Gb ( & preferably in a manner that allows rapid server access to any sized region at any zoom level ).

    The colour imagery and DEM( digital elevation model ) for a large state can easily top a terrabyte.

    Add to this a database of locations, labels, vectors, populations, demographics, land-use, etc ...

    ( An "OpenContentDistributed"(tm) database perhap's )

    some stuff that's about:

  • If Bill G. (or anyone with sufficient funds) wanted to, he could watch anyone, anytime for as long as he wanted just by buying aritime on a service like this.

    No, he couldn't. Maybe you've been watching too much Enemy of the State? It would be awfully difficult for a spacecraft moving thousands and thousands of miles an hour to monitor you sunbathing naked in the backyard in real-time. The spacecraft images what it is passing over. Once it's past, it's gone until the next go-round.

    I don't know anything about the orbital design of Ikonos, but a good analogy is this: take a basketball and a roll of masking tape, and then start unrolling the tape across the surface of the ball, starting at the "south pole" and heading north. The width of the tape represents the swath, or the total width of the imaged area. Once you get to the north pole and back down to the south, keep on unrolling .. you're now unrolling tape over a slightly different area of the basketball. Depending on how your "orbit" is engineered, you're probably overlapping a small percentage of a previous swath. Keep this up, and eventually you'll have covered the entire basketball with tape (or nearly all of it.) At this point you start over.

    Again, a lot of this depends on the design of the spacecraft's orbit (which I know nothing about), but that's the general idea.
  • Is this the new preferred method of trolling? It's similar to the Crash Eschelon project... put out enough rubish that's not obviously rubish so that they waste processing power on useless stuff.
  • Under current US Supreme Court precedent, it doesn't violate the fourth amendment protections against unreasonable searches to make aerial photographs (from a plane) of someone's backyard that has a huge fence around it and is concealed from view on the ground. ( California v. Ciraolo []). Now imagine how much more powerful/dangerous satellites like this could be in the hands of law-enforcement.

    Sure there are plenty of satellites out there in the hands of the government, but most of those are unavailable for mundane applications potentially inconsistent with national security. But one of the rationales in Ciraolo was that the policeman taking the photos from the plane was in publicly accessible space, and that can hardly be said of most spy satellites. But if this particular satellite is available for public use, then does that change the picture? I hope not -- privacy is a scarce enough quality as it is.
  • Geographical Information Satellite, though I am more than likely wrong ;)
  • Israel has sensitive defense installations, Demona for example, that they would like to keep secret.

    I think the major danger would be that hostile countries could use the images for targetting missiles on Israeli defense installations.

    The US has a huge geographic database that is used for programming terrain following cruise missiles.

  • wouldn't the area covered by the satellite (not necessarily Ikonos) depend entirely on its orbit, including the time spent over a given area?
  • You've been able to buy these kind of images from a number of sources for several years now, though Space Imaging's pricing seems to be better. The resolution isn't really that impressive, so I don't really think privacy is much of an issue; at that scale, everything will just look like boxes...The main appeal seems to be the time frame (though I'm not sure how they can have pictures the next day if the revisit time is 2.9 days), though to actually search for anything over a large area would cost a lot of money with these guys (at least you could save on the software costs by using open source remote sensing tools:
  • For those looking for Area 51, it's been moved to north west Texas, now called area 6452 or something like that. I think I saw that in Popular Science a year or so ago.

    Hmmm... 1 meter shot of Aurora. Sweet.
  • Satellite images can be used for good or evil. Like for scientific research and information. We need info on the climate and what man is doing to the planets ecology. Also it is good for knowing when governments are commiting atrocities. On the bad side terrorists or governments who want to do us harm can use the images to fight our troops or for terrorist attacks. While there needs to be freedom of information, there also needs to be some way to limit access to the images in some situations.
  • Close.

    GIS stands for Geographic Information Systems.

    For more info see the comp.infosystems.gis FAQ at:

  • Anyone know the lattitude and longitude of any of them private nudist colonies?

    How about Pamela Anderson's backyard?

    Environmental research my ass :)
  • wouldn't the area covered by the satellite (not necessarily Ikonos) depend entirely on its orbit, including the time spent over a given area?

    Well, if you're suggesting that they might be able to slow the spacecraft down over an area of interest, it doesn't work that way. The forces of orbital mechanics overrule the curiosity of any national security agency. The velocity of the spacecraft is directly related to the radius (altitude) of its orbit. The lower the altitude, the higher the velocity. And at the altitude Ikonos is at, it's chugging along at a good clip. :-)
  • Ater dun said:

    First, I wouldnt think it ridiculous for the service to be used for the purpose of plotting terrorist or spy attacks. Considering the military has probably used this technology to map out and survey areas, I could forsee some wannabe terrorists purchasing an aerial map of a large metropolitan city in order to determine where to place a bomb for maximum impact and what to use as an escape route. True, the photos arent detailed enough to be dangerous, but on large scale area, it might be problematic.

    Unless aforementioned terrorists intend to drop a bomb out of a plane (or crash a plane into a downtown area), most of those maps aren't going to be terribly useful. I'd suspect most terrorists would find maps of the internals of a building, or plain old MAPSCO street maps, far more useful. (This is especially true in the case of most domestic terrorists, which are actually the larger source of potential terrorism in the US; a Planned Parenthood office isn't going to be easily identifiable as such by a mere aerial shot (well, unless you look for the building with a lot of people marching about with piccies of dismembered stillborn fetuses), while on MOST maps of downtown areas they tend to mark federal buildings clearly as landmarks.)

    I'd actually think, oh, a building directory or blueprint, or even a AAA map would be more useful. The majority of terrorists are going to go for either car-bombs (a la World Trade Center or Oklahoma City) or for small devices which can be hidden easily (a la the Eric Rudolph bombings, or butyric acid attacks on family-planning centers that perform abortions). This is probably true even if they go for non-conventional arms.

    The aims of military are different, in that with spy cameras they are usually looking for military installments; then, "smart weapons" or bombers are targeted towards those areas using the info from the maps. Not too many terrorists have ready access to ICBM's or bombers yet. :) (If and when they do, I suspect we'd have rather worse problems than, say, merely keeping high-resolution photographs of downtown areas away from them. :)

  • Now that I think about it, it's only a small step from this to having a full blown death ray in outer space, imagine the uses... other than the obvious of wiping out your enemies of course!!

    Dr. Kevorkian could have a new euthanasia device consisting of a GPS unit and a wireless webpad, simply key in your co-ordinates to commit suicide!

    Ohhh thats bad taste!!!

  • Spying on your neighbor would only really be possible with a higher res. At 1m res, I'd look at most like a dark blob. Same for film sets and whatnot. Auto spying would be difficult given the resolution.

    Once the resolution for commercial birds goes to <30 cm, then let's start worrying.
  • Now all the company needs to do is send the images through image recognition software that scans for naked breasts (from women sunbathing in the nude). Offer the option to for a "nude surveillance" subscription, and you'll retire early.

    Francis Hwang

  • So all we need to do is fly it higher and match the rotation speed of the earth, thereby making the earth seem to be still from the satellite's perspective.
  • I could forsee some wannabe terrorists purchasing an aerial map of a large metropolitan city in order to determine where to place a bomb for maximum impact and what to use as an escape route

    Erhm, you could just as easily use the USGS for this purpose. And they don't change. Or search terraserver.

    I could forsee this used in the corporate realm for espionage. As a prior poster mentioned jokingly, one could spy on movie screenings and car testings. However I wouldn't be surprised if some companies started investing in satelite pics to scout out the developments of competitors

    Once again, you don't get to choose the exact time of day or night that the photograph gets taken. Just that it will happen sometime in the next three days. And it's not at all clear to me how you would be able to distinguish an SUV from a limo, let alone features of some new car model. Perhaps for aerospace, but not the auto industry.

    I think eventually the technology would get better to the point that personal spying could occur. It doesn't seem realistic, but it is a potential threat to privacy. Imagine being able to spy on your neighbor's daily activities

    Again, you don't get to choose the exact time. And considering the sattelite is moving through space at thousands of miles per hour, I don't think it would be feasible to track someone in real-time. Plus the one-meter resolution makes it difficult to identify an object the size of a person, let alone who it actually is.

    Essentially, all the things you are afraid of can be accomplished by aeroplane already.

  • Unless you are using color band data from something like Landsat 7,then your "satellite photography" is probably radar imaged. Clouds won't appear since the radar images go right through them.
  • Well, I live on the east coast and I'm a minor. I have no idea whats on a nude beach so I need to find out. Does anybody have coordinates for a nude beach? Thanks!
  • So all we need to do is fly it higher and match the rotation speed of the earth, thereby making the earth seem to be still from the satellite's perspective.

    Ikonos orbits at an altitude of 675 kilometers. The altitude required for a geostationary orbit is approximately 36,000 kilometers. It's safe to say that the instrument array is not going to yield a 1 meter spatial resolution from that height. :-)

    On the other hand, a geostationary orbit like this is obviously great for communications satellites.

  • I know its from ms and all but I've spent hours looking at terraserver. [] For those who have no idea what I'm talking about, ms has a massive collection of sattelite imagry in a database that you can browse like a map. Very cool, now see if area 51 is blocked out...
  • by Lunatic ( 15240 ) on Monday February 07, 2000 @07:15PM (#1297159) Homepage
    So all we need to do is fly it higher and match the rotation speed of the earth, thereby making the earth seem to be still from the satellite's perspective.
    Unfortunately, this involves a HUGE tradeoff in resolution at the current state of technology.

    The Ikonos satellite data (see here []) shows that it orbits at an altitude of 681 kilometers / 423 miles. Why so close? Because the closer to the earth, the higher the resolution of the picture, all things being equal.

    If you look here [], you'll find a quick rundown of orbital types -- of interest is Geostationary Orbit (GEO), which is what would be necessary to accomplish what you want. However, its altitude is 35786 km / 22228 mi. So, if they were to push the satellite to a higher orbit (which is also much more expensive to do, and required a much bigger launch vehicle and other things I'm probably overlooking), the resolution would be 53^2 (2809) times poorer, again all things being equal. This would make a 1m resolution picture into a 53m resolution picture. Not likely to catch you sunbathing in the back yard.

    They would have to increase their optical system by over 3 orders of magnitude to do as you suggest.

    I'm no expert, and I have probably overlooked many things. However, this is a quick summary of why it's not as easy to do as it sounds.

  • I seem to remember an article in the New York Times a few weeks ago on some images this satellite took of the North Koreanmissle base (responsible for the launch of a wayward test launch that was sighted formerly sighted over Japan,) under private direction. What seemed a simple diversion became a coup d'etat, as the US had formerly played up the importance and dangerousness of this missle site as "severe." The pictures, which were anlyzed by the American Federation of Scientists (?), revealed a launch base so dilapidated, it was missing only a giant rubber band with which to complete missions; point being: when the information and capabilities reside solely in the hands of the few and powerful, the interpretation is solely theirs also. For too long we have been reliant on the propaganda offered to play up American social fears to the monetary benefit of big government. Next stop, perhaps more pertinent? Nuclear test sites in India and Pakistan might be worth a penny.
  • But, say, some Columbian drug lord wanted to guage build up of DEA forces in area Foo. He could go through a proxy, but how deeply would the company check backgrounds for ppossible nefarious uses? Oh how sad that we have come to the point where LOOKING at things has become "nefarious uses".
  • Ikonos orbits at an altitude of 675 kilometers. The altitude required for a geostationary orbit is approximately 36,000 kilometers.

    Is that for a stationary object? What about flying the satellite at the speed of the earth's rotation? Please explain this to me like I'm 4. I'm starting to get a headache from not seeing why this won't work.

  • Spacing Imaging has been covered in the press for months, e.g., this article in U.S. News & World Report [] (the online version doesn't have the same impact as the print article, which had a beautiful, full-page, 1-meter image of Washington D.C.). The company was also featured in the N.Y. Times Sunday January 16th, etc., etc.
  • >There is no more such thing as privacy, kids.

    Sure there is - just do all your outdoor activities under a big umbrella.
  • Holy Shit. On the main site, click "Media Only", and then agree to the terms and what not and you can get access to some awesome pics:

    San Francisco

    Yeah, I agree to the terms. Uh-huh, I work for the Times.
  • Please explain this to me like I'm 4.

    Hate to quote myself, but that is what I needed to hear. Thanks for the explanation.

  • The GPS satellites are not in geosynchronous orbits. The orbit is 26,560 km above the center of the earth with an orbital period of 12 sidereal hours. If you watch the spacecraft tracking display on a GPS receiver, you will see the satellites rise and set.
  • Geez, I wish my brother would stop posting this stuff.
  • by crayz ( 1056 )
    You guys love to talk about how information wants to be free. I'd suggest a site, or many sites, are started, where people pay for these images and then post them free for others.

    Especially those $10 ones. Think of it, you could have a huge archive of pics from all around the world. I think it'd be sweet. So who's gonna do it?

    Also, what's the legality involved here? If you pay for the image, do you have the right to distribute it to others?
  • Let's keep this in perspective (no pun intended)

    The cops were flying at the legal minimum, 1000' above terrain. I don't know the altitude of the satellite, but it can't be below 100 miles up and I wouldn't be surprised if it's 200 miles up. For convenience, let's call it a shade under 200 miles up - 1,000,000 feet up. That's a nice round factor of 1000x. Also, if I did my math right that works out to an angular resolution of around 1/2 arc second.

    The average human eye has an angular resolution of something like 1 arc second, so the camera is a bit better than the human eye. But the cops in the aircraft were only 1000 feet up, so even with their poorer eyes they had resolution of around 1.5 mm (again, if I did my math right). I don't recall the size of the average marijuana leaf off the top of my head, but at a guess let's call it 150 mm - large enough that the plant would be easily recognized by eye.

    I don't like the idea of cops buzzing property to peek over fences, but if I did my math right they could have still identified the plants from far higher than that.

    But orbit? If you assume classic optics it seems unlikely that any satellite could ever recognize objects as well as a cop in a helicopter. Even if we assume a ten-fold improvement in the resolution (to 0.1 m), the leaves will still be an indistinct blur. This might be fine enough resolution to recognize the plant via remote sensing techniques, but this violates the "naked eye" test.
  • The key thing to remember is that this is the current state of the art of the commercial satellites. In a few more years, the capabilites will improve. Other sensor information will probably become available.

    Just like our CPU's keep getting better, our ability to perform satellite recon will also get better. I don't know but I don't think that there is an available technology to screw up this capability. At least for computers there is encryption. I don't have anything to hide but I'm concerned about privacy issues.

    I guess for now, all one can do is make it public knowledge about when this type of satellite is overhead. For me, I'm going to put my statue of NP naked and petrified in my back yard. If infrared sensors/imaging is available, then I'll pour hot grits down my pants. There! Something useful advice gained by the trolls of /.

  • by GMontag ( 42283 )
    how old can this stuff get?
  • Hey... don't I have any rights to the shots your satellite took that you're selling to Playboy of my backyard? I mean, I should get some royalties here.

    Maybe you could set up a Jennicam-in-the-Sky service...

    Seriously, though, this court case says:

    The Santa Clara, Cal., police received an anonymous telephone tip that marijuana was growing in respondent's backyard, which was enclosed by two fences and shielded from view at ground level. Officers who were trained in marijuana identification secured a private airplane, flew over respondent's house at an altitude of 1,000 feet, and readily identified marijuana plants growing in the yard. A search warrant was later obtained on the basis of one of the officer's naked-eye observations; a photograph of the surrounding area taken from the airplane was attached as an exhibit. The warrant was executed, and marijuana plants were seized. After the California trial court denied respondent's motion to suppress the evidence of the search, he pleaded guilty to a charge of cultivation of marijuana. The California Court of Appeal reversed on the ground that the warrantless aerial observation of respondent's yard violated the Fourth Amendment.


    The Fourth Amendment was not violated by the naked-eye aerial observation of respondent's backyard. Pp. 211-215.

    • (a) The touchstone of Fourth Amendment analysis is whether a person has a constitutionally protected reasonable expectation of privacy, which involves the two inquiries of whether the individual manifested a subjective expectation of privacy in the object of the challenged search, and whether society is willing to recognize that expectation as reasonable. Katz v. United States,
    • 389 U.S. 347 []. In pursuing the second inquiry, the test of legitimacy is not whether the individual chooses to conceal assertedly "private activity," but whether the government's intrusion infringes upon the personal and societal values protected by the Fourth Amendment. Pp. 211-212.

    • (b) On the record here, respondent's expectation of privacy from all observations of his backyard was unreasonable. That the backyard and its crop were within the "curtilage" of respondent's home did not itself bar all police observation. The mere fact that an individual has taken measures to restrict some views of his activities does not preclude an officer's observation from a public vantage point where he has a right to be and which renders the activities clearly visible. The police observations here took place within public navigable airspace, in a physically nonintrusive manner. The police were able to observe the [476 U.S. 207, 208] plants readily discernible to the naked eye as marijuana, and it was irrelevant that the observation from the airplane was directed at identifying the plants and that the officers were trained to recognize marijuana. Any member of the public flying in this airspace who cared to glance down could have seen everything that the officers observed. The Fourth Amendment simply does not require police traveling in the public airways at 1,000 feet to obtain a warrant in order to observe what is visible to the naked eye. Pp. 212-215.

    The same argument would apply here, since space is still (last time I checked, at least) a public vantage point. After all, what other alternatives are there? You can't stop people from looking out of satellites or airplanes by accident, and to expect people to cover their backyards for some privacy; it's a lose-lose situation.

    Privacy seems to inevitably go down the drain, no matter what we try to do to protect it...

  • Is that for a stationary object? What about flying the satellite at the speed of the earth's rotation? Please explain this to me like I'm 4. I'm starting to get a headache from not seeing why this won't work.

    But what do you mean by a stationary object? The velocity and the orbit radius (altitude) are codependent. If you are travelling at a certain altitude and you increase your velocity, you also increase your altitude. If you decrease your velocity, you also decrease your altitude. The two are inseperably tied together. You can't be travelling at a certain altitude, cut your velocity in half, and remain at the same altitude. It doesn't work that way. There is a constant velocity for objects in a geostationary orbit, just as there is a constant velocity for objects orbiting at an altitude of 675km.
  • Well, the resolution of IKONOS is new, but space photographs of many places --- yes, including Area 51 --- have been available from many years.

    Space Imaging --- previously EOSAT --- has handled Landsat imagery since the mid-1980s, when Landsat was "privatized" (read: "paid for with taxpayer money and then given away to wealthy aerospace firms.") They raised the Landsat prices to the point where Congress enacted a law (in 1992, I think) to pay for flying a new Landsat not under Space Imaging's control, and distribute the results in the public domain.

    The Space Imaging Landsat CDs on my desk are marked "Trade Secret", with a notation that their use is governed by a license agreement.

    Landsat has borne four sensors: the RBV or Return Beam Vidicon, with 80m resolution and which never got much use; the MSS or Multispectral Scanner, with four bands of 80m resolution; the TM or Thematic Mapper sensor, with 7 bands with 30m resolution; and the latest satellite, Landsat 7, whose data is available from the USGS's EROS Data Center for cost (presumably a few hundred dollars for a roughly 7000x7000 "scene", although I haven't been able to find it on their Web site yet) bears the ETM+ or Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus sensor, which is roughly equivalent to the TM sensor, but with an extra "panchromatic" band with 18.9 meter resolution.

    About the Landsat-7 data: it's public-domain once you get it, so you can do whatever you like. If someone sets up a web site with all L7 data available free to the public, the cost to the USGS per image provided will probably go up --- they'll be providing only one copy of each image. They might be unhappy about this.

    About geosynchronous orbits: the Landsat 7 satellite flies at 705 km altitude. Geosynchronous, or geostationary, satellites are flown at 35,000 km, 50 times higher. (That's the way the math works out --- if you want to go around the Earth once every 24 hours, you need to fly that high.) If the Landsat 7 ETM+ sensor were flown in a geostationary orbit, its multispectral bands would provide 1500-meter resolution instead of 30-meter resolution. The GOES satellites that provide weather maps fly in geosynchronous orbits; they have 4-km resolution on most bands and 1-km resolution on one of them.

    An additional difficulty is that half of the work --- one direction of scanning --- is taken care of by the Landsat's motion over the earth, giving us a simpler and more reliable satellite. (Landsat 5, still flying, is 15 years old.) So a geostationary surveillance satellite would need either a much bigger sensor array, or more mechanical parts to do a second direction of scanning.

    In response to some of the more paranoid posts: given the difficulty of surveillance from a geostationary orbit and the coverage times from the unclassified satellites (Landsat-7 covers the whole earth every 16 days --- so it covers any given spot almost twice a month), it is highly unlikely that the NRO or any other agency is able to track you minute by minute, or probably even day by day, by satellite.

    (I do not have access to any classified information on this topic.)

    Space Imaging also handles one of the Indian Remote Sensing satellites, if I recall correctly.

    Landsat data is good enough that you can distinguish different kinds of crops --- so those guys you know who grow their weed under fluorescents in their basements aren't just being paranoid.

    Other satellites that provide similar information are the French SPOT satellites and the EOS satellites.

    The hot new tech in this department is something called "imaging spectroscopy", or "hyperspectral imaging", which potentially provides much more detailed information by collecting hundreds of bands of information. (What brand of paint are you using on your car? What is this soil made of? Where in this minefield is the earth disturbed? etc.) I believe there is now one experimental hyperspectral sensor in orbit.

    "Remote sensing" is the name for this whole field of study. I believe has a superb tutorial on the subject.

  • by cje ( 33931 )
    The damn "no score +1 bonus" button is too close to "post anonymously." The above reply is mine.
  • Now that is just damn fascinating - I never heard nor understood that before. Now I wonder why that codependency exists (Laws of Physics, yeah, yeah), and can it be broken.
  • But, say, some Columbian drug lord wanted to guage build up of DEA forces in area Foo. He could go through a proxy, but how deeply would the company check backgrounds for ppossible nefarious uses?

    Since when is using information to AVOID conflict a "nefarious" use? Is it that you've bought the US government's line that "drugs are bad"?
    If that's the case, and you're willing to accept that in a supposedly free society the government can dictate to its adult citizens what chemicals they are legally able to ingest, perhaps you should consider that the abridgement of other freedoms are soon to follow.

    And why should the company be required to do a background check AT ALL? The free flow of information is ESSENTIAL in a democracy. To suggest that the government has any place in censoring who has access to that data is INSANE!
    Too many people have bought the line that "it's in the National Interest(TM)" too many times. The sooner the USA is put on even footing with other nations in the world, the sooner we will be FORCED to deal with other nations as equals and treat them with respect, rather than acting as the global bully, expecting all other peoples of the world to comply with our wishes because we can wave the biggest guns around.
  • There is one at approximately 123.2W49.2N. Right now there probably aren't any people there because it's raining, but if it were summer and it were not raining then it would probably look yellow with pink dots.
  • If a satellite is on a geostationary orbit it looks stationary from an earth based observers point of view. It is moving quite fast but at such a velocity that it's trip around the earth takes those magical 24 hours. Kind of like having two cars driving the same speed side by side. An observer in the car 1 would think that car 2 is stationary if that is all he could use as a reference for speed.
  • Actually, it just needs Java and Javascript. I'm running Mozilla , but usually have J&J turned off. Turning 'em back on made the nifty tool work OK.
  • Now I wonder why that codependency exists (Laws of Physics, yeah, yeah), and can it be broken.

    Short answers: Laws of Physics, and no. The closer a spacecraft is to the Earth (i.e., the lower the altitude) the more the Earth attracts the spacecraft and therefore the faster it travels. (This is, of course, Newton's law of universal gravitation .. that any two bodies attract one another with a force proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.) Similarly, the further away a spacecraft is from the Earth (a higher altitude), the less the Earth attracts it, and therefore the slower it travels. That is why the codependency exists; blame Newton.

    For further reference, consult a book on astrodynamics .. I've got to go to bed. :-)
  • Hehe - sleep well and thanks. Now to break this immutable law of physics thingy ...
  • yeah but they'd be nekked pink dots
  • show you what this thing is really capable of!

    http://ww 9/mile1024.gif []



  • Strictly speaking, the codependency can be broken, but it would require a continuous expenditure of energy to maintain its orbit. FAPP, it would run out of energy too quickly.
  • Actually, if you slow down you will move into a higher orbit. If you speed up you will go into a lower orbit. It's the negative specific heat of gravity that explains this curiosity
  • So the limitation is fuel ...
  • Privacy seems to inevitably go down the drain, no matter what we try to do to protect it...

    Not really, if you don't want people looking in your backyard, just build your house to the size of your backyard. :) Enclose it, put a roof over it and there you go. Of course there might be some building restrictions of some sort. You could also buy a bigger plot of land, make an indoor pool, make it so no one can look in from any vantage point and there you go. Your privacy is alset. :)

  • Putting a roof in between the uh .. exotic .. plants and the sun, kind of defeats the whole purpose.

  • A few years ago I was on the Nevada Test Range where they did the atomic testing, and Area 51 is a part of it's northern area. Anyway, I was in a welcome building getting my pass to go on base(to pick up some stuff I bought at an auction:trucks, misc broken parts, a tractor. Don't ask), and I see a sat photo of the whole area. Nice 3' x2' photo. I got to see a nice 5 mile or so(measuring with my pen against the scale) runway, and a few buildings in that general vincinity. I also saw the roads running all over the base, and only one of them went over the mountains into the Area 51. Unlike the rest of the base, where there were roads running all over the place.

    Now for posting this, will I get a knock on my door? I sure hope not, I didn't sign a non disclosure agreement or anything.....
  • Yeah, if you had enough fuel (keeping in mind that you need more fuel to compensate for the mass of the fuel), you could keep an object in a geostationary position at an arbitrary altitude. I hesitate to use words like "orbit" or "satellite" to describe such a scenario, however. Keep in mind that this would be more like a high-altitude plane/rocket than a satellite. The whole point of satellites is that they are in stable orbits, so they don't need to be firing thrusters all the time.

    Really, though, I was just quibbling. Because a satellite can't be kept up that way for any appreciable length of time, barring a major advancement in energy storage, one would be better off just sending a plane.

  • when you download images from them, they include an HTML "TEXTAREA" which contains the entire terms and conditions (pretty standard fare).

    What they NEGLECTED to do, however, is either:

    (a) JavaScript it so you can't actually get focus inside the textarea to change things, or
    (b) verify that the license agreement "matches" what it should when you click to "Agree"

    You could theoretically change the agreement to say "Space Imaging agrees to grant the downloader exclusive rights to this image in perpetuity. Any future sales of this image by Space Imaging will incur a royalty payment due the downloader in the amount of 25% of the collected monies". If they, in turn, agree to that license (by sending you the poster/image/etc.), then it should be considered legally binding.

    Moral of the story: Let's paste the GPL in there, and have a field day. :)

  • Why do you need there service you can go to the terraserver project and pratically get the same quality of satellite imagery for free. Check 'em out at []. Its really quite impressive to zoom in and look at your "house" from space.

    Nathaniel P. Wilkerson
    NPS Internet Solutions, LLC []
  • Surprise (Not)! The Terraserver only has USGS topograhical maps for Area 51. Sorry, no photos.
  • by Crixus ( 97721 ) on Monday February 07, 2000 @10:33PM (#1297202)
    OK, in my first message here I talked about a French web site with a catalog of satellite photos of the earth.

    After searching far and wide (I even checked on floppies) I found the URL. I don't know if it will work for you, because friends have told me that they occasionally get locked out being asked for a password, but here it is:

    It's called DALI [].

    Use it, but don't abuse it. :-)

    If it gets slashdotted they'll probably cut us off.

  • Well, that's what recon satellites were invented for. Think of this as a pay-as-you-go intelligence branch. Heh, Kinko's meets the NRO (National Reconaissance Office).

    Really, this puts an interesting spin on the concept of being a mercenary. I wonder if the outfit doing this will refuse to take pictures of war zones lest they get their satellite disabled by the big boys.
  • TerraServer shows very old pictures, right? Something like 15 years old. They were taken a long time ago. If I want to see what our boys in Bosnia are doing right now, TerraServer won't help. If I want to get a snapshot of Bin Laden's terrorist camp in Afganistan, TerraServer won't help.

    The military isn't concerned over TerraServer due to this out-of-datedness.

  • Not that I am complaining really. I think it's sorta neat that you could track someone 24-7. As an earlier poster mentioned, someone with great wealth could rent this baby full time, and have it follow a certain person.

    It's interesting what freedoms we surrender in the name of technology. Again, not complaining, I just find it interesting.

    With other satellite companies sending similar projects up into orbit, the prices for the service ought to come down. A neat use for this would be to take aerial photos of a long enough event (one that lasted all day or longer), like some large sports tournament or something like that.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Imagine if Saddam could have had access to 1-meter resolution satellite images emailed to him during Desert Storm? One of the main ways we got him was to divert him through actions in Kuwait while we amassed to the south and then flanked him. The reason it worked so well was that he had NO IDEA we had such a massive southern build-up. With a handful of money and internet access, he would have been much better prepared and our casualty rate would have likely been much higher.

    Granted, this is nothing close to the technology that modern spy satellites have (probably greater than 10 centimeter resolution []). Who knows, maybe much greater.

    Still, it's only a matter of time before this is used in some way that endangers the national security of some country. I mean, is this company going to be informed by every country that creates a 'classified' area? Will there be formal no-spy-zones announced by every country on Earth? What happens the first time that it accidentally photographs something that gets a team of DEA agents slaughtered or worse, tips the hand of something far more serious and causes the deaths of thousands of ethnic minorities or something?

    As for real-time satellite observation, the 25-year old Keyhole satellite program was able to monitor evens on the ground in near real time, I hate to think of what they are capable of doing now. I recently saw an interview with a former CIA employee who was commenting on SR-71 photographs and said something to the effect of 'The images we used to view from the Blackbird were so detailed that no only could you look down on a golf course and see who was putting, but you could tell what brand of gold ball they were using. And that was 30 years ago.'

    Should this interfere with or threaten a US military (or intelligence) op, I don't doubt for one moment that this baby would somehow, uhm, vanish...we've had ASAT [] missiles since '85. :)

  • How about using something like 'magic water' to mark personal property (for example cars). Could the imaging systems not use filters to home in. Some conspiracy theorists might not like it, but if you've got nothing to hide ...
  • uh yeah, and these urban terrorists couldn't just buy a street map?

    I think your hat needs more tinfoil.

  • Also, since GEO is directly above the equator, you would not be able to get good images of northern and southern areas of earth (areas of special interrest to potential customers, such as researchers and mining/oil companies). The fact that it's sitting in GEO also means you only get images of one hemisphere, while a low, polar orbit can cover all of the globe in relativly little time (three days in this case).
  • Just yesterday I was thinking of buying some 'smart drugs' to improve my memory. I'm sending them straight to /. instead - you covered this when Space Imaging launched their website several months ago! Maybe the Slash code should automatically search and suggest stories that could be the same whenever you make a submission? Or was it your aim to cover someone else's coverage of a story you had already run, to show how far behind the competition is?

    Or is it OK to rerun stories over and over because there are so many new readers that haven't seen what was posted anything more than four months ago?

  • Now we can have them :-)
    Anyone know the coordinates?
    And please email me photos if you beat me to them :-)

    - Steelie
  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2000 @05:00AM (#1297228) Homepage Journal
    We did a county wide project in the midwest a few years ago to lay parcel maps on aerial photos with very high resolution; you can tell which people have pools or decks which aren't listed in the assesor's database.

    By overlaying the national wetlands inventory or corresponding state GIS information on top of a aerial or sattelite photo, you can easily tell who has been building in a wetland.

    We're working with an agency in CA to map rice fields for purposes of mosquito control. Normally vegetation and crop identification requires infrared, however with rice you can use black and white photography when the rice field is flooded. A few thousand dollars of sat imagery will save them many times the labor costs in surveying.

    For most users the advantage of this kind of imagery is lower cost vs conventional survey or aerial photography. For some applications that you mention (photos of war zones) you simply can't get the information any other way.
  • by jabber ( 13196 )
    Check this out everybody...

    According to these satellite images from Terraserver, Area 51 really does not exist... There's just a big black hole there.

    I'm sorry Agent Smith, was I not supposed to see that?
  • From the original BBC article:
    The US Congress has already passed a law restricting the imaging of Israel.

    What bugs me most about this is that Congress thinks they can legislate such "dangerous behavior" out of existience. I have news for Congress: Tennessee's #1 cash crop is illegal. Translation: Congress' power to legislate behavior is exactly squat.

    Which is as it should be.

    Mere posession of information (DeCSS) should not be illegal. If I want to go have a spysat take pictures if the Israeli version of Area 51, MY GOVERNMENT has no business holding a gun to my head and telling me I can't.

    Now, if I go use that pic to lob a SCUD missile in on the runway, the Israelis have the right to make me face a firing squad. But the UNITED STATES fscking GOVERNMENT has no business poking its nose in my hard drive, period, end of sentence.

    Assuming, of course, they can make heads or tails of it, or want to bother devoting a supercomputer to a small-time maverick like me... :)

  • So hang camouflage netting over the yard. If need be, tie scraps of cloth to it that are died in shades of green. That'll interfere with anyone seeing clearly enough to make a naked eye identification.

    This saves on using hydroponics and sunlamps, which chew through so much power (for a decent sized crop) that your power bill skyrockets, and they often catch growers by watching power bill fluctuations.

    Growing with sunlight gets around that problem, and reduces the ammount of work you have to do.

    But, if you want to grow it, why not trek up into government land, find a clearing, and plant there? Find a place with adequate (lots) rainfall, and stop by every few weeks to fertilize.

    That would strike me as the best way to grow, and to avoid being caught.
  • For those of you who need to find the Long/Lat of a place in order to use this thing try this site:

    It will find longitude and latitude of cities, specific addresses, and various other things.

  • Okay, this is fun, I'll join in:
    Problem ultimately boils down to reaction mass use efficiency: chemical rockets really don't use fuel very efficiently, so you have to carry a lot of mass (as fuel) relative to the amount of thrust you get when you burn it. This makes the problem of hovering over an arbitrary spot at an arbitrary (orbital) altitude strictly within the realm of science fiction. Now, of course, there are other kinds of propulsion which are more efficient, like the ion drive on Deep Space 1, but even though it is more efficient it doesn't have enough oomph to do it. Naturally, we don't have fusion engines yet, but they might be able to do it (but this is by no means certain). I'm going to leave the calculation of what kind of fuel efficiency you need to stay poised over Manhattan at 637 km as an exercise for the students in my remote sensing course -- what a great idea for a final exam question, thanks Colonel!!!

    "C makes it easy to shoot yourself in the foot; C++ makes it harder, but when you do it blows your whole leg off."
  • There is a clear difference between you choosing not to tell me your SSN, and the state requiring that I pass a background check before you are permitted to tell me your SSN.

  • Okay, you're on. I've decided it's too intimidating a problem for an exam question (my students are (pun warning) not rocket scientists, but it will be a homework problem. I'll put the question up on the web: let me know your real email address (decipher mine from the antispam lingo above) and I'll send you the url.

    "C makes it easy to shoot yourself in the foot; C++ makes it harder, but when you do it blows your whole leg off."

Love may laugh at locksmiths, but he has a profound respect for money bags. -- Sidney Paternoster, "The Folly of the Wise"