Satellite Remote Sensing
The Earth-observation business has undergone a sea
change. Commercial firms have launched satellites
with sophisticated imaging capability once reserved
for classified government specialists. Today, there are
more high-resolution satellite images available than
ever before—and they are accessible to anyone with an
ver the past 10 years, there have been huge changes in the way in which
we image the Earth and in how we use the information derived from that
imagery. And the future promises even more change. Remote sensing,
which for years remained a niche industry, is now a hot technology that is suddenly
turning up everywhere—from Google Earth to real-estate markets to the media.
The industry driver has been the launch of commercial satellites collecting high-
resolution imagery of a quality once reserved for classified government users.
Public awareness of high-resolution imagery has grown as millions of people
around the world see it every day online and in the news.
Remote-sensing assets have been imaging the Earth for about 50 years.
Although satellites are certainly not the only way to capture large-scale
images—planes and unmanned aerial vehicles also play a role—they
dominate the field. Despite their drawbacks of risk and expense,
satellite imagery can be obtained anywhere and, with appropri-
ate sensors, any time. There are no “no-fly” zones in outer
space, so military and intelligence agencies were very
enthusiastic early adopters of the technology. In addi-
tion, as of the mid-1980s, the United Nations has
permitted nations to fly over each other’s territories
as long as the imagery is made available at a rea-
sonable cost and on a nondiscriminatory basis.
January 2011 | 29 GeoEye satellite image