COMMERCIAL USE OF
Friend or Foe — The Choice is Ours
Maj. Tim Hawes, USAF
ith the advent of commercial proved just as important in World
licensing of U.S. commercial War II for U.S. operations. During the
satellite builders, the possibility Cold War, highly secret national tech-
exists for the Department of nical capabilities evolved to provide
Defense (DoD) — or its adversaries imagery data to those in the national
— to purchase military operations security community. Today, we’ve
planning data in the form of 1- to 3- seen the technology shift dramati-
meter imagery. When U.S. commer- cally to a point where civilian and
cial satellite makers launch their first commercial satellite operators sell
vehicles into low earth orbit in the imagery data with operational sup-
1997-1998 time frame, the DoD will port quality to worldwide civilian cus-
be faced with a delicate choice of tomers, even potential U.S. adversar-
whether or not to buy imagery to ies. This growing availability of
supplement their operations planning increasingly higher quality imagery
and execution needs. While this is brings opportunities and challenges
not a new choice given the existing for the U.S. military’s operational
LANDSAT and SPOT satellites, the forces as they attempt to meet the
enhanced commercial capabilities expanding mission assignments given
promise to offer an even more tempt- them in today’s turbulent environ-
ing product. This development forces ment.
new questions on the military Ser-
vices at a time when they are being Initial Commercial Imagery
pushed to satisfy more of their needs is Still Available
with commercially available products. Government sponsorship was the
catalyst for development of medium-
Opportunities and Challenges to low-resolution imagery (10-meter
Since the advent of reconnaissance on up), currently available for global
airplanes in World War I, we in the purchase. Starting in 1984, the U.S.
U.S. military relied on remote sensing Government put the imagery of
data in the form of imagery to support LANDSATS 4 and 5 in the hands of a
our operations. Photo reconnaissance private company for operations and
marketing. These two satellites have Satellite image of Langley Air Force Base,
six bands of imagery, with 30-meter Va., taken on 11 June 1988, at 3.5m resolu-
Maj. Hawes is a Space Budget/Con- resolution and a thermal band of 120- tion by a Russian KVR-1000 Resurs satellite.
gressional Staff Officer, Assistant Sec- meter resolution.1 The satellites were
retary of the Air Force for Acquisition, digitally recording the world in 185km NASA is currently developing
Pentagon, Washington, D.C., and a x 185km image data sets since the LANDSAT 7, anticipated to launch in
former member of the Defense launch of LANDSAT 4 in 1982, fol- 1998. The Clinton administration con-
LANDSAT Program Office. He is a lowed by LANDSAT 5 in 1984. While tinues to foster earth remote sensing
graduate of PMC 94-2, DSMC. LANDSAT 6 failed to reach final orbit, for worldwide public use.
Program Manager 44 March-April 1995
While the U.S. instituted lite — which has an announced reso- U.S. commercial space marketplace.
LANDSAT, the French Government lution of 1 meter.” We as military These systems would all have imag-
sponsored their own remote sensing operators ought to be interested in ing capabilities in the 1- to 3-meter
capability — the SPOT satellite. The who is taking advantage of this capa- resolution range. They are vying for
latest in this series, according to Avia- bility and how this might impact our the mixture of commercial, civil gov-
tion Week & Space Technology (4 planning and operations. ernment and national security mar-
October 1993), “SPOT 3 began Sept. ket share that has purchased
27  to return excellent pan- Other Countries Offer LANDSAT and SPOT images to this
chromatic images with 10-meter (33- Imaging Capabilities point. They will also be trying to
ft.) resolution and three bands of Following the lead of the other branch into the much bigger aerial
multispectral data at 20-meter (66-ft.) space-faring nations, Russia presented photography market.
resolution.” These imagery data are imagery for sale to the world commu-
also available for purchase by the nity starting in the late 1980s. Today, For instance, WorldView Imaging
world community and bring the capa- Russia maintains Resurs — an earth and CTA Inc., plan to launch two
bility of stereo imagery formats for resources satellite — with imagery satellites with 3-meter resolution in
available for purchase. Also, Russian the 1995 time frame to compete in
Photo courtesy of Autometric Inc.
panchromatic images with resolutions this market.4 Eyeglass International,
down to 2 - 3 meters are available in a jointly owned company formed by
the U.S., sold through EOSAT — a GDE Systems Inc., Litton Itek Optical
joint venture of General Motors and and Orbital Sciences Corporation re-
General Electric (based just outside cently won a license from the Com-
Washington, D.C. in Lanham, Mary- merce Department to proceed with a
land). These film-based images are 1-meter resolution satellite system to
estimated to come from the “Russian be launched by 1997.5 As reported in
Kometa fourth-generation reconnais- Aviation Week & Space Technology
sance spacecraft,” as detailed in a 23 (23 May 1994), Lockheed’s board of
May 1994 Aviation Week & Space directors recently approved invest-
Technology article. ment in a 1-meter resolution satellite
system that could also be operational
Other countries besides the U.S., by the end of 1997, and could involve
France and Russia have flown imag- other U.S. and foreign partners.
ing satellites and offered the data for
sale. These include Japan (MOS-1 In addition, Litton Itek Optical
and 1B, JERS); European Space entered into separate discussions to
Agency (ERS-1); and India (IRS-1A build a reconnaissance satellite sys-
and 1B). South Africa displayed a tem for the United Arab Emirates,
model of a 1.5-meter resolution — with an expected resolution as good
“Green Sat” — and announced its as 0.8m, according to Aviation Week
intentions to launch in 1995. Japan & Space Technology (21 June 1993).
has similarly announced a new satel- Meanwhile, NASA selected two firms
lite — “Hiros” — to have a 2.5-meter — CTA Inc., and TRW — to build light
panchromatic resolution comple- satellites for earth remote sensing.
mented by 10-meter multispectral While CTA’s solution will be in the
bands.2 In addition, Germany, China medium (3-meter) resolution class
and Israel are all believed to have or (and identical to the two planned to
be developing reconnaissance satel- be flown commercially), TRW’s will
lite capabilities.3 The availability of combine a 30-meter resolution multi-
imagery from other country satellite spectral imaging (MSI) capability with
added usefulness. France has been operations will continue to grow as 5-meter panchromatic capability.6
working on an improved capability to the technology improves and becomes
follow SPOT 4, for use in military more easily available. These cases illustrate the search
reconnaissance. In fact, according to by U.S. aerospace firms to broaden
the 21 June 1993 issue of Aviation Potential Commercial Satellite into the growing commercial remote
Week & Space Technology, “...France Operations from the U.S. sensing marketplace and the result-
has been actively seeking users for its Several U.S. companies have re- ing pressure on the U.S. Government
Helios military reconnaissance satel- mote sensing efforts under way for the to “ease export restriction on higher-
Program Manager 45 March-April 1995
resolution imaging satellites and data have access to this open flow of re-
in order to compete with foreign sys- connaissance quality data in the form
tems offering resolutions of 1 meter or
With GPS of commercial satellite imagery. U.S.
better.”7 This competition will only information, commanders must assume that our
increase the on-orbit capabilities opponents have access to this kind of
available through the commercial these data could information and could be forewarned
marketplace. We in the military need of U.S. intentions, and even our spe-
to be aware of the evolution in space- potentially be cific operational plans unless we main-
borne imaging capabilities over the used for tain operational security precautions.
next 5 years. We will have the option With GPS information, these data
of acquiring the data for our own calculating could potentially be used for calculat-
uses, but we cannot ignore this evolu- ing target coordinates of U.S. installa-
tion any longer — or we will pay the target tions by an enemy force. We will be
price in future missions. facing a capable threat that did not
coordinates of exist 5 years ago.
How Will the New Availability U.S.
of Data Look? An opportunity arises for us as
With the successful launch of one, installations by well, since we are in an excellent
some or all of the potential U.S. com- position to take advantage of the grow-
mercial capabilities, combined with an enemy force. ing information flow. In many in-
the expanding foreign space remote stances, we are already capable of
sensing capabilities, there will be a We will be accepting digital satellite imagery.
burgeoning selection of satellite im- facing a capable Today for instance, according to the
agery data in the near- to mid-future. Defense Mapping Agency (DMA) in
The data will fall into the range of 1- to threat that did their publication, Digitizing the Fu-
5-meter data (typically in a panchro- ture (3d Edition), “DoD uses multi-
matic, or black and white band), with not exist 5 spectral imagery (MSI) for geographic
much of it complemented by coarser information applications, bathymetry,
resolution MSI. These multispectral years ago. special map products, trafficability
data add entirely new dimensions to analysis, aircrew perspective views
the image data utility — dimensions and contingency planning. The use of
beyond the scope of this article. Not increase in space platforms and MSI is developing throughout DoD
only will resolutions improve, but with ground processing capabilities, the agencies, Services, and the Unified
new sensor technologies the width of time lines for providing a requested and Specified Commands...Aircrews
the image itself should also increase, image should shorten dramatically. using natural color perspective views
allowing single-image swaths of a This will enhance the value of the created by ‘draping’ the imagery over
larger surface on the ground for a imagery to support any operational Digital Terrain Elevation Data (DTED)
given resolution. need. said it was ‘like being there.’”
Augmenting the increased resolu- With the increasing number of sen- Various agencies of the DoD pur-
tions, band sets and image surface ar- sors and their enhanced area cover- chased LANDSAT and SPOT for a
eas will be the ability to use Global age, a correspondingly larger portion number of years to supplement infor-
Positioning System (GPS) data to accu- of the globe will be acquired and hence mation that they normally obtain
rately relate the space images to actual be available as imagery stored in ar- through other means. As pointed out
ground locations. This ability to pre- chives for manipulation and exploita- in Digitizing the Future (3d Edition),
cisely locate ground objects in scene tion by the commercial public, for- “The Defense Mapping Agency is the
data sets is a major improvement not eign countries and, of course, the U.S. primary action office for the procure-
only for cartographers and urban plan- Government and Armed Forces. ment of MSI [multispectral imagery]
ners, but for anyone interested in using remote sensing data by the Depart-
the satellite imagery for calculating po- Challenge and Opportunity ment of Defense agencies and Mili-
tential target coordinates. for U.S. Forces tary Departments.” In fact, the De-
The challenge for those of us in the fense Mapping School offers a 10-day
Another related factor is the time- U.S. Armed Forces will be to operate course to DoD personnel for “famil-
liness involved with actually acquir- in environments where potential ad- iarization training in the analysis, in-
ing an image of interest and making it versaries, such as Third World na- terpretation and application of digital
available to the end user. With the tions or even terrorist groups, will MSI.” Accordingly, some of us in the
Program Manager 46 March-April 1995
military are already aware of how this An example showing civilian use and data...derived from commercial
unclassified imagery is useful to aug- of commercial satellite imagery com- imaging satellites for their usefulness
ment our normal mission data. bined with seismic data occurred when in satisfying DMA customer require-
the Verification and Technology In- ments.”10 In an era of diminishing
DoD Stated Needs formation Center (VERTIC) (based at defense budgets, we in the DoD should
The use of unclassified, commer- Imperial College, London) announced continue and potentially increase our
cially available data for the U.S. mili- the location of a 5 October 1993 un- use of commercial imagery to take full
tary was acknowledged again in a derground nuclear explosion. VERTIC advantage of the civil/commercial
February 1994 memorandum: “The publicized its findings, including the dollars already spent and to more
Joint Requirements Oversight Coun- test site location in China, a mere 3 fully understand the potential threat
cil (JROC) has reviewed the Remote hours after the event took place. The to U.S. security.
Earth Sensing (RES) Mission Need scientists used LANDSAT 30-meter
Statement...we believe other alter- data and SPOT 10-meter data (al-
natives, such as an RES sensor on a though they attempted to get Russian Endnotes
DoD satellite (i.e., Defense Meteo- higher-resolution data as well) to
rological Satellite Program), commer- monitor and evaluate possible test 1. Freden, Stanley C. and Gordon,
cial satellite, foreign satellite...may sites. The previously acquired imag- Frederick, Jr., “LANDSAT Satellites,”
be cost effective and affordable.”8 In ery along with the seismic informa- Manual of Remote Sensing, Volume I,
this memorandum, the senior lead- tion allowed the VERTIC scientists to 2d Edition (American Society of Pho-
ership validated our continued use quickly eliminate potential sites and togrammetry, Falls Church, Va.,
of RES data and recognized the like- select the suspected test site once the 1983), pp. 517-570.
lihood that future image data may seismic data indicated an event had 2. Asker, James R., “High-Resolution
come from a source beyond our con- occurred.9 This example illustrates the Imagery Seen as Threat, Opportunity,”
trol. More recently, as reported in capabilities offered to us to augment Aviation Week & Space Technology
Aviation Week & Space Technology the existing DoD structures as well as (23 May 1994), pp. 51-53.
(23 May 1994), the U.S. Air Force the possibilities of some other group 3. Lenorovitz, Jeffrey M., “Industry Press
and DMA reportedly purchased Rus- tracking our activities in the future, CIA to Ease Curbs on Imaging Satel-
sian “Earth Resources” imaging data especially when improved satellites lites,” Aviation Week & Space Technol-
sets for evaluation of the unclassi- reach orbit. ogy (21 June 1993), pp. 80-81.
fied data’s applicability to DoD 4. Nordwall, Bruce D., “Digital Imag-
needs. Conclusion ing Boom Exploits Technologies,”
The availability of commercially Aviation Week & Space Technology (6
Potential Uses of Future supplied satellite imagery in 1- to 3- June 1994), pp. 40-42.
Purchased Imagery meter resolutions presents both an 5. Asker, James R., “High-Resolution
With access to commercial imag- opportunity and a challenge to the Imagery Seen as Threat, Opportunity,”
ery data comes some advantages for DoD operational forces. Through Aviation Week & Space Technology
our operational forces. In planning seeking to understand this opportu- (23 May 1994), pp. 51-53.
for humanitarian and joint operations nity, we will discover the challenge to 6. Asker, James R., “SmallSat Pacts
the commercial imagery is very useful our forces. This growing number of Key to NASA Reform,” Aviation Week
as a common reference graphic, since satellite systems supplying imagery & Space Technology (13 June 1994),
it’s already unclassified and can be with varying qualities to multiple us- pp. 56-57.
distributed quickly to our allied part- ers must be taken into consideration 7.Lenorovitz, Jeffrey M., “Industry
ners or participating local officials. by our military leaders as they plan Presses CIA to Ease Curbs on Imaging
Some U.S. forces have already used operations for U.S. forces. Our com- Satellites,” Aviation Week & Space Tech-
LANDSAT and SPOT data to make manders must assume that their ad- nology (21 June 1993), pp. 80-81.
image maps with this in mind. The versaries have access to this level of 8. “Remote Earth Sensing,” Joint Re-
multispectral aspect of this future satellite imaging capability, and con- quirements Oversight Council Memo-
imagery, while not discussed here, duct their operations accordingly. randum 014-94 (17 February 1994).
also addresses new areas of DoD re- 9. Gupta, Vipin and McNab, Philip,
sponsibility, such as environmental The former Director, DMA, Maj. “Sleuthing at Home,” Bulletin of the
impact analysis for use during base Gen. William K. James, USAF (Ret.), Atomic Scientists (December 1993),
cleanup operations. Also, we must set the tone for his own agency and pp. 44-47.
address our vulnerability to potential perhaps for the rest of the DoD: “It is 10. “Multispectral Imagery (MSI)
compromise through an adversary’s the policy of the Defense Mapping Applications,” Digitizing the Future,
access to the same commercially avail- Agency to review and analyze map- 3d Edition (Defense Mapping
able data. ping, charting and geodesy products Agency), p. 85.
Program Manager 47 March-April 1995