Tag Archives: RapidEye

Googs in Space?


Google’s maybe getting into space?  This is an interesting TechCrunch article about the possible acquisition of satellite imagery company SkyBox by advertising aggregator Google.  Theoretically, SkyBox is Google’s only target, but TechCrunch does float Planet Labs and RapidEye as possible targets, too.  Except, SkyBox is the ONLY satellite company offering real-time streaming of High Definition video.  Which might be one of the reasons why Google might want to buy SkyBox.

It seems to me, though, there should be some serious questions about why Google is buying an imagery company like SkyBox.  As far as we know, Google has been fairly satisfied with using imagery from satellite operators like DigitalGlobe.  So why think about buying an actual satellite imagery operator like SkyBox (aside from the cool factor)?  What would this do for Google that’s not happening right now?

What instantly leaps to mind is maybe Google is perhaps not getting the best imagery its money can buy.  US-based companies like DigitalGlobe are only allowed to sell their highest resolution imagery to US government customers.  They can’t, under current laws, sell it to anyone else.  I am not a lawyer, but what can you do with the imagery if you are the owner of the imagery?  And, what if you’re literally just giving it away on a platform such as Google Maps or Google Earth?  I don’t think lawmakers ever foresaw a multi-billion-dollar company giving away imagery in a networked world.  In some ways, Google is using better imagery from airplanes, too, and they’re not prevented from using those for their maps.

So perhaps Google is tired of not getting the best (although, arguably, SkyBox’s camera resolution won’t supply the 25 centimeter resolution that DigitalGlobe’s birds can).  But if Google supplies the money, SkyBox can up this part of the game, eventually.  Right now they’re operating only one satellite, with a second hopefully on the books for them in the next few months.  Of course, this is not really a complete answer to why Google might want to buy SkyBox.

There’s the HD video portion that makes SkyBox unique.  What on Earth could Google do with that information?  Sure, some of the video might be useful for a Google Doodle, but I bet there’s more on their minds for SkyBox.  Theoretically, the satellite’s video camera might be able to give real-time visual information of traffic.  It could also provide information about weather.  It could be used to tie in to a Google Glass type of device or your cell phone.  Frighteningly, it could also be used to track a particular device with great accuracy (of course, they’re kind of doing that already).  More useful applications would be for helping fire-fighters determine “hot-spots” real-time–something that can’t really be done with a DigitalGlobe-type constellation.

But it would all only be useful if SkyBox can get more satellites in orbit than the single satellite they are using right now.  Then things can get really interesting.  If there was a full constellation, Google could accomplish a “sideways” move.  Think about the projects they’ve worked on in the past:  Project LoonGoogle Fiber, and their activities in the spectrum auctions.  Google has done a lot to promote internet communications.  It would make sense to put a secondary or tertiary communications payload on these satellites.  Payloads dedicated to supplying internet service, that are able to interlink with other satellites.  Admittedly, that gets more complicated than just supplying imagery to the world.

Such a system, if used, might be a way for Google to skirt country boundaries and laws.  Unless there was a requirement for a “government monitoring device” to be installed in a ground station, Google would be able to give the world internet access.  The way to get around the ground station bottleneck might be just to have devices generally available that can talk back and forth to the satellites from the ground (kind of like Iridium, but with less government sponsorship and smaller phones, perhaps).  Or perhaps use a converted barge as a floating ground station in international waters.  Of course, this is all conjecture, but it’s fun to do.

Does all of this mean Google gets my trust back?  Well, let’s see:  this basically increases surveillance ability and Google has no obligation to transparency.  They still, somehow, get ads through to me with no context, except through words misinterpreted by their fairly lame algorithm.  They still feel obligated to share information with the government without too much of a fight.  So, nope.  Watch the skies, then, and smile–you’re on Google Kamera.


Why space matters: Imaging satellite operations, part 15—decrypting the world with waves of color

Never seen this before...

Never seen this before…

Finally, we get to discuss the colors used for DigitalGlobe’s imagery satellites—or satellite, as we will be focusing (no pun intended—these satellites can’t really focus, remember) on WorldView-2.

According to DigitalGlobe’s Basic Imagery literature, WorldView-2’s image sensors use eight different colors to look at the Earth:  Coastal, Blue, Green, Yellow, Red, Red Edge, Near-IR (InfraRed)1, and Near-IR2.  These colors are why DigitalGlobe calls the satellite payload, multi-spectral capable.  The satellite also can conduct a collection using a panchromatic (black and white) sensor (we discussed sensors in the previous lesson, remember?  Please–go there and read if you don’t.).  Each color is meant to help DigitalGlobe and its customers discover different features and activities on the Earth’s surface.

So, um, “coastal” is apparently a color (yeah—I haven’t heard of it either).  Looking at another of their product brochures, “coastal” means coastal blue (page 21).  Which makes sense, I guess, because the light wavelength band (396-458 nanometers) they associate it with edges right into the blue color wavelength band (starting at 442 nanometers).

WAIT—don’t run away!!  I’m not going to talk about those numbers and terms here.  If you want to learn more about light bands, wavelengths, nanometers, etc., then you will be motivated enough to click on this link, and maybe this one, to learn more.  If you aren’t, ignore that and please continue reading.  I’m trying to keep this in English-type speak—really!!

Suffice it to type that Coastal is a kind of blue.  What is it used for?  Well, according to this site, it’s used to help see into clear water—nearly 45 feet deep.  So, the most prevalent areas where water is that shallow are the coasts.  Voila—Coastal (I think).  This color helps the camera show the sea/lake floors, submerged water plants, sediments (dirt, etc.) suspended in the water, and the cloudiness of the water.  Click on this link, and then try this one, to see examples of a coastal image (I think—DigitalGlobe doesn’t really call the color out).

What does Coastal mean to you and why does it matter?  Well, it probably won’t matter to you unless you’re working in these coastal areas.  What it means to the person working along the coast is that in one quick sweep of WorldView 2’s sensor, it’s able to get a fairly accurate map of the seabed up to 45 feet deep.  Here’s an example of how coastal blue can help with seeing the truth on the ground.  So maybe something has changed along that seabed because of an earthquake, or flooding up the river—or a hurricane has submerged and moved objects hazardous to marine navigation.  Maybe people need to know this kind of information as soon as possible.  DigitalGlobe and other imagery companies like RapidEye can respond fairly quickly.

Compare this to sending out a boat or two to figure out what’s going on.  Or sending an aircraft (which will likely have a better camera)—it may not be able to respond within the time that DigitalGlobe can—or the weather may still be too dangerous for either craft (air or sea).  And both require their craft to move back and forth along the coastline to cover the area the WorldView-2’s camera covered in less than 10 minutes.  Here are some examples of satellite collections of Hurricane Sandy’s handiwork (not necessarily using just coastal blue).  Imagine trying to get all those pictures with a ship, airplane or drone!  More Sandy images are here, too.

So area access and timeliness are two major advantages the satellite has over the terrestrial craft.  These advantages are obviously inherent in satellites and satellite operations, not just the color band selected.

Okay, so that was a bit long—next lesson will be about blue, and if I don’t type too much, green, too.


Not to be outdone by Astrium’s pictures mentioned in my aside a few days ago, RapidEye’s in the game, too.  Some of their five imagery satellites have been very busy.  They have released a few pictures of their own of the … Continue reading


Just like the Italian economy, since it’s very founding Venice has always sort of headed in the wrong direction–underwater.  Not that the inhabitants needed any more proof of sinking.  But, according to this article on BusinessInsider, a polar low earth orbiting … Continue reading

Why space matters: Imaging satellite operations, part 12—all the colors of the rainbow—from space!!!

This lesson is not about space Skittles.  Nor is it about any political parties or leanings within or without closets.

All the colors of the optical rainbow.

All the colors of the optical rainbow.

The one thing I am asking you to do for this and the remainder of these imagery operations lessons, is keep in mind I am guessing.  I don’t KNOW exactly how DigitalGlobe conducts their space operations.  But my guesses will be based on the documents which a company like DigitalGlobe puts out prolifically.  A little chest-pounding never hurt a company’s bottom-line, and DigitalGlobe has done its share, resulting in some great resources.

So, the satellite’s payload.  We will be focusing on DigitalGlobe’s assets.  It doesn’t hurt to remember that in Lesson 8, I mentioned DigitalGlobe has five satellites.  But they are five different satellites with five different imagery payloads:  IKONOS, GEOEYE-1, QuickBird, WorldView-1, and WorldView-2.

This conglomeration of a constellation exists because DigitalGlobe merged with another American imagery company called GeoEye earlier this year (2013).  There are more satellites projected to be launched next year (Worldview-3), but it’s good to remember the payloads, and perhaps the satellite busses, aren’t the same.

For our example, we will start with DigitalGlobe’s latest satellite, launched in 2009:  WorldView-2.  According to DigitalGlobe’s specifications for Worldview-2, it orbits 770 kilometers above the Earth (about 478 miles–low earth orbit, then), sun-synchronously.  If you need a refresher as to why that’s important, please read this lesson, then come on back.  Go on—take your time…

Now, back to the payload. We know, because DigitalGlobe tells us so, that WorldView-2’s payload is different from the other ones in their constellation.  They are so proud of it, it’s almost cute.  It is “the first high resolution 8-band multispectral commercial satellite.” (DG’s DS-WV206/13 Data Sheet)

Let’s clarify multispectral.  It’s an interesting term, because really it pertains to energy wavelengths—that is, very specific frequencies in the electromagnetic spectrum, including ones the unaided eye can’t see.  And of course name hints there is more than one frequency in which DigitalGlobe’s payload imager can take snapshots.  In this case, according to DigitalGlobe, these spectral bands are identified as 8 “colors:” blue, green, red, near-InfraRed1, coastal (?), yellow, red edge, and near-InfraRed2.

The payload is also panchromatic, meaning there is a very high resolution image sensor on board, too.  This one has more pixels on it than the multispectral sensor, with the ability to encompass a huge swath of the visible light spectrum in one image.  I won’t pretend to know how both sensors are mounted within the payload.

What do these mean, and how are these colors (spectral bands and panchromatic) used?  That’s for the next lesson!