Skybox - satellite imaging startup
July 1, 2013 12:05 AM   Subscribe

"Inside a Startup's Plan to Turn a Swarm of DIY Satellites Into an All-Seeing Eye" - Wired on Skybox Imaging.
"A Silicon Valley startup is launching a fleet of imaging
satellites that are cheap, small, and ultra-efficient. Their up-to-the-minute
snapshots of the planet will give us data that could upend industries,
transform economies—even help predict the future."
posted by peacay (14 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
From the technological side, I love this.

Then I get to thinking about how much data about people's habits and whereabouts corporate entities, goverments and even other individuals will be able to purchase (or even steal) without those people's permission..

..all seeing eye is right.
posted by tbonicus at 12:30 AM on July 1, 2013

Well, the NSA will be pleased at any rate .
posted by lesbiassparrow at 1:34 AM on July 1, 2013

My understanding is that this isn't the first time a private company has attempted to sell satellite photography directly to the public (something about a French company trying to sell live high resolution weather photos).

The NSA and other military interests didn't and won't allow it to happen, not unless it includes real time redaction of sensitive areas such as the White House, military bases that don't appear on maps, and navy ports, in a manner that satisfies them.

Interesting article, but I thought they sort of glossed over that point with lines like "The disruptive threat that Skybox poses to the space-based commercial imaging market might also annoy some powerful people in the US government...". Yeah, it'll be framed as a disruptive threat to National Security in additon to Lockheed's bottom line.
posted by ceribus peribus at 2:07 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

So I know the NSA has been in the news recently, but this has nothing to do with them. Its the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) that designs, builds, and operates the spy satellites of the United States government, as well as coordinates the analysis of aerial surveillance and satellite imagery from several intelligence and military agencies.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:39 AM on July 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oops, you're right - I had the wrong three letter agency there. Appreciate the correction.
posted by ceribus peribus at 2:53 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ollie Guinan gave a talk at State of Map US 2013 a couple of weeks ago.

If that link doesn't work, click through from here.
posted by wierdo at 4:55 AM on July 1, 2013

Interesting; according to the Q&A session in that video, government restrictions on space photography were relaxed in the late 90s, so I probably have an obsolete impression of the obstacles in that regard.

I'm surprised that he mentioned issues with cloud cover. Removing clouds from aerial and satellite photography using homomorphic filtering is literally a textbook example of digital image processing, and it would be made even easier if you had a recent non-cloudy photo of the same area to base your transform on. This is a topic that people are writing grad papers on right now, so I don't think cloud covered areas need to be avoided entirely. Even in the worst case they'd be useful for weather forecasters.
posted by ceribus peribus at 6:02 AM on July 1, 2013

Man, those Skybox guys have a serious hate-on for the people working at NASA.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:02 AM on July 1, 2013

I was at Guinan's talk at SotM US. Definitely worth watching if you're at all interested in the topic, he's a good speaker. Particularly exciting were the demonstrations of satellite video, moving images, and fresh ones at that. Exciting new world.

How does managing orbital slots work internationally? Is there something like the FCC to allocate spots and prevent things from crashing into each other? Swarms of satellites are awesome, but functionally indistinguishable from debris fields.
posted by Nelson at 7:50 AM on July 1, 2013

This would be as transformative as when Carter declassified the high-accuracy GPS signals. Bravo, if it happens.

And, thanks to both Euro and Chinese space programs, it isn't completely dependent on the US govt withholding its heavy hand on "security interests".
posted by IAmBroom at 9:19 AM on July 1, 2013

To say that the US Government (and, I expect, other governments who have what are referred to as National Technical Means) isn't ready for what's practically an adaptive Smart Grid of Earth-imaging satellites is a gross understatement. Pace IAmBroom, the "high-accuracy GPS signals" (rather, the switching off of the intentional downsampling of the signals for civilian receivers, called Selective Availability or SA), didn't happen under Carter, but only under Clinton, in 2000.

Bureaucracies are inherently conservative, and large bureaucracies tend to be more conservative in more or less direct proportion to their size. When you add the sorts of turf wars that are likely inevitable when one agency builds and flies the satellites and another is responsible for the exploitation and management of the imagery that they collect, and the whole thing is highly classified (note the NRO policy letter linked above was originally Top Secret-codeword protected)... change doesn't come quickly.

This story is fascinating, and if I thought I had anything to offer SkyBox I'd send them my resume now. However, while I'm okay with there being a more robust ecosystem of earth imaging provision out there, I'm honestly not sure how adaptive and cheap I want commercial imaging to get. As a remote sensing nerd, I love the idea of light, fast, cheap imaging platforms with multiple daily revisits that don't take years to build, test, launch, and switch on. As a citizen, I'm not sure I don't rather like the ponderousness that the big-G government imaging world has to lug around like an anvil on a chain.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 10:26 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

ceribus peribus: "Oops, you're right - I had the wrong three letter agency there. Appreciate the correction."

It's like when Fox News puts a (D) next to some scandalous (R). In the end, it doesn't really matter, they both represent the same system (D/R, NSA/NRO) Not that it isn't important to be correct, but if we're talking principles instead of details, it's a bit irrelevant.
posted by symbioid at 10:43 AM on July 1, 2013

symbioid: In the end, it doesn't really matter, they both represent the same system (D/R, NSA/NRO)
If you genuinely believe that's true, then you are apathetic to issues of abortion legality, gun control, welfare, education funding, elevation of christian tenets in US government decisions, taxation policies, rape victim support, voter eligibility, and whether or not the word "vagina" should ever be uttered in a place of lawmaking.

I've never met someone who is ambivalent to all those issues before.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:05 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

This will end Orwellian.
posted by blue shadows at 12:13 AM on July 2, 2013

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