Pigs in Space: Coming to a Neighborhood Near You?

Police Satellite

This might go into the category of “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”  This CNN post talks about how satellite imagery is aiding in the resolution of a murder investigation, which is great.  Satellites are tools that have multiple uses, and if helping to solve murder is one use, then good.

But the post makes the leap that there’s some cost effectiveness to get for a local police department to buy satellites.  Let’s just stop the silliness that line of thought brings about, shall we.  First, if a local police force wanted to buy a satellite to help fight crime, it would have to buy a fleet, or constellation, of satellites, because just one satellite, particular one in polar low earth orbit (LEO) with a high resolution imagery camera on board for fighting crime, would only be over that part of the world maybe once a day for about 15 minutes or so.  So more satellites would be required.

They would also need to hire people to operate, troubleshoot, and monitor the satellites–something typically not consistent with police training.  Then there’s the data itself.  Even if privacy issues were ignored, there’s a lot of data that high resolution cameras produce.  This data, to be useful, needs to be downloaded through a high-bandwidth link to a ground station, then shunted to the satellite operations center.  Building such a network is very expensive.  Upgrading such a network is also expensive.  There are services, such as Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT), that already have infrastructure in place, but there would have to be agreements and payments made to download and shunt information to the local satellite operations center.

There’s also just the designing, reviewing, and launching of the satellites, which can also be time-intensive and expensive.  After all, no organization is more cautious or risk-averse than a government one spending taxpayer money–and building and launching satellites are so full of risks, the process of just designing the satellites would be very long and costly.  So I am unsure what the CNN post means when the words “cost effectiveness” are used.

I would suggest an alternative, a technology the police are used to, if only because they use helicopters:  flying drones.  Drones can be made to stay in one location, are relatively inexpensive compared to satellites, can be relatively cheap to configure for quick and near-simultaneous data transmission.  Sure, they would need to train a few people for flying drones, but I daresay that might be cheaper and easier than employing space operators 24/7 just to monitor satellite health and safety.

Again, I’m not pooh-poohing the fact satellites can help with local crimes.  I just don’t think, once people analyze the costs versus benefits of buying and operating satellites, that satellites are the answer.  Heresy, I know.

As for the title of this post–I don’t have anything against the local constabulatory.  But I couldn’t resist a cheap laugh.


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