Tag Archives: imagery

Satellite Imagery Provides No Real Help for MH17 (because of Photoshopping?)

Wait, this image is probably not what it looks like. Image is hosted on DailyMail.com.

I happened on this news story last Friday as I was in research mode at work: MH17 update. It looked interesting, but was also suspicious when I considered the timing of the image’s release corresponding to Putin getting a finger in the chest from the Australian Prime Minister. However, me being at work meant I really couldn’t look into it a bit more to figure out what exactly was going on.

As a reminder, earlier this year Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot out of the sky over Ukraine. Passengers and crew on board all died. Some sources were pointing to a surface to air missile shot from a BUK (a vehicle dedicated to carrying and launching rockets), but there hasn’t been any authoritative evidence really set forth for any kind of criminal investigation to contemplate. The image in the Daily Mail’s story shows that a fighter jet of some kind fired off a missile (the line in front of the fighter’s nose is the missile’s contrail) toward some kind of passenger jet. Except maybe that’s not the truth either.

So now I have had time do some searching about this story online, and can’t say I’m too surprised with the stories coming out regarding the image above. Many people with much better eyes and backgrounds in imagery have come out to say the picture’s been cobbled together. This site, Belling¿cat, seems to be a pretty good overall place to go and read about how people have figured out the satellite images are fakes. There are the side-by-side comparisons, plus the obvious grabs for images off the internet by whoever made it. Keep in mind that I’m not very familiar with Belling¿cat, so they may have an agenda for spinning stories a certain way. It seems legit, though.

I’m not saying it’s impossible for the kind of thing that’s pictured in that imagery to have happened, but it seems unlikely–maybe as unlikely as a BUK launching a surface to air missile at an airliner. This story is so convoluted, so tinged by political agendas, I am unsure there will be any kind of truth coming out of this soon, if ever.

But here’s the reality–those people on that Malaysian Airlines MH17 airplane were murdered. Whether it was politics, a guerilla war, one side or the other–someone took a shot at a passenger plane, downed it, then stayed quiet about it. Is this the first time something like this has happened? No, and this Wikipedia list (which I wouldn’t consider a first-hand source), has a list of the unfortunates shot down since passengers have been flying in aircraft.

It’s easy to get cynical about it, saying the thugs in the region have too much control for any truth to get out. I’ve seen some of those comments, and must note that if people go in with that kind of perspective, then such a perspective might perhaps inform the outcome of this tragedy’s investigation, no matter how grounded in history and reality the perspective might be.

Not helping in any of this is the US government. People within the US government made allegations that sounded like they could be substantiated. I wrote a bit about those allegations in this post: Can Top Secret Satellites Aid in International Justice? Overhead military assets like the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) were mentioned, as well as mentions by none other than John Kerry of possible Signals/Communications Intelligence (SIGINT/COMINT) interceptions. But then things seemed to just get quiet. I really haven’t found any reasons why there hasn’t been any other information. But it could be the US is unwilling to divulge any more information that may reveal technical data about the US intelligence collection assets. Even if a judge were given jurisdiction of this case, and subpoenaed the information, I am not sure the US government would divulge the details.

The upshot of this whole thing, though, is nobody seems to believe the image wasn’t doctored, except where it counts: in Russia. This Austin 360 post reiterates this sentiment fairly well at the end of its own story about this image kerfuffle. Sigh!

China Sends Up Another ‘Practice’ Satellite

Image hosted on Astrowatch. A Long March (Changzheng) rocket launches with the newest Shijian-11 satellite aboard.

On Sept 28, China, unsurprisingly, launched another satellite in their weird passive/aggressive way.  At least it seems passive/aggressive with China advertising it’s a practice satellite but then keeps its mission secret.  On the other hand, the US does the same thing with its military and intelligence satellites as well.

The newest Chinese satellite is called the Shijian-11.  According to Astrowatch, the Chinese word “Shijian” means practice.  The satellite was launched into an orbit that matches the typical orbit of imagery satellites.  Zarya. info, a website that monitors the activities of certain satellites closely, lists the Shijian-11’s orbit as having an inclination (the angle of the satellite’s orbital path relative to the Earth’s equator) of slightly over 98 degrees.  It also lists the time it takes the Shijian-11 to orbit the Earth as about 98 minutes.  The satellite’s altitude isn’t very high, 687 x 705 km (425 x 438 mi), so it’s definitely a low earth orbit satellite.

It seems to be too soon to tell exactly what the satellite is doing, but it may be to help China’s space corps practice more with taking pictures of places on the Earth.  China does have other practice satellites in orbit, so a new one shouldn’t be too shocking.  But older Shijian satellites have done some interesting things, especially in 2013, when Zarya  was observing the maneuvering capability of particular Shijian satellites and a possible robotic arm on one of them to grab other satellites.

This is just another in a series of steps in which China seems to be moving quickly forward in learning more about space operations.   This post from The Diplomat even somewhat hesitatingly states that China’s government is ordering the People’s Liberation Army to establish an actual space force.  Between the practice satellites and their establishment of a space force, China seems to seriously be working on their space operations skills.  Shijian makes perfect, I suppose.

The Indian Mechanical Martian

Image from Universe Today.

The above image is a great reminder of the playful part of conducting serious missions.  The latest mission to Mars in this case just arrived Tuesday and was placed into Mars’ orbit.  The country responsible for the mission?  India.

11 months ago, in November 2013, the Indians launched the Mangalyaan, or Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) with the goal of getting the spacecraft to Mars.  MOM is now in orbit around Mars, and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is happily posting Martian snapshots (below) taken from the Mars Colour Camera payload on Mangalyaan. You can follow the ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Twitter feed here.

Mars from MOM. Image from the ISRO’s Twitter feed. Posted 1121PM on 24 Sept 2014.

Side shot of Mars from MOM. Image from ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Twitter feed, 737AM 25 Sept 14.

A lot has been written about this mission’s low price tag of about $74 million, which is significantly lower than just ULA/DoD launch pricing of $450 million.  But I’ve already written about that part earlier in the year.

Why did India send out a probe to orbit Mars?  The ISRO is extremely interested in the processes that allowed for the loss of water on Mars (at least the Delhi Daily News says so–I didn’t see it as part of the ISRO’s written mission objectives).  They also want a map of Mars’ surface.  There are a few other parts to the ISRO’s scientific objectives for MOM involving the measuring of methane levels, and discovering what minerals the red planet is also composed of.

The ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission website has a decent amount of information, as well as a few videos and images, that are all about the mission, the spacecraft, and the new data they’re collecting now.  If you’re interested in this Indian spacecraft and its mission, then you should perhaps go there to read all about it.

Is it cool that India did this on a shoestring?  Yes.  Is it awesome they even did it at all?  Definitely.  Welcome to the Mars High Club, India!!

Satellites Track the Re-floating of a Cruise Ship

This should float your boat ;-). Image hosted on astrium-geo.com.

Yes, the European Union types are using satellites to monitor the re-floating of the Costa Concordia cruise ship.  This Airbus Defence & Space post notes that the satellites are involved as part of the Copernicus Emergency Management System (CEMS).  They are:  TerraSAR-X and Pleiades satellites.  TerraSAR-X is a Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellite that is very accurate in its “image” taking.

The Pleiades satellites are just imagery satellites tasked this time by the EU through CEMS to take some overhead images of the progress occurring as the ship gets re-floated.  Why were the satellites tasked?  Worker safety?  Making sure no reefs suddenly appear?  Monitoring for wayward ship traffic?  No, silly, the satellites are being used for pollution detection.  Yup, protecting the Mediterranean from pollution, because, you know, all those kids peeing and playing in the surf along the Italian beaches aren’t polluting the water at all.

My guess is the satellites are probably looking for oil slicks and things like that–although UAVs could do the same job for less money in this case.  More interesting is the fact that the CEMS exists.  It’s new information to me and seems to duplicate, in a few ways, the United Nations Satellite Disaster Charter, which I’ve talked about here.  Except that only European Union Members can activate the CEMS for their purposes.

If you’d like to see a before and after picture, then Astrium has this nifty little tool that allows you to drag the line left or right, on this page.

Imagery Unchained (Finally!)

DigitalGlobe Free

Back in September 2013 I wrote an opinion about why the US government’s laws regarding imagery resolution were very onerous.  The rules just didn’t make sense in a world of cheap picture drones.  That opinion was based on a story about DigitalGlobe attempting to get imagery restrictions relaxed so they could compete better in the satellite imagery market.

Now, that has all changed.  According to this Marketwired.com article, and DigitalGlobe’s subsequent announcement, the US Department of Commerce has relaxed those satellite imagery restrictions.  From Marketwired.com:

“Effective immediately, DigitalGlobe will be permitted to offer customers the highest resolution available from their current constellation.”

There’s also a bit about allowing specifically finer resolutions to be made available from DigitalGlobe’s Worldview-3 low earth orbiting satellite, about six months after it’s launched in August.  Marketwired.com also has a nice chart comparing most of DigitalGlobe’s satellites and their capabilities, if you’re curious.

Good news for DigitalGlobe and its customers.  Now, does SkyBox have to go through the same thing?  Especially now that Google is trying to buy them?  A lot of action going on in the satellite imagery world.