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GlobalSecurity.org In the News

The Denver Post January 23, 2002

Satellite images of Afghanistan go public

By Ann Schrader, Denver Post Science Writer

Now anyone can see some of the high-resolution satellite images that the U.S. military studied as it plotted strategy in Afghanistan. An exclusive contract between Space Imaging of Thornton and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency - or NIMA, which purchases geographic images for the U.S. Department of Defense - expired late last week.

Under the multimillion-dollar contract, Space Imaging agreed not to sell or release any of the 1-meter black-and-white and 4-meter color images snapped by its Ikonos 2 satellite as it sailed over Afghanistan. Ikonos, launched in September 1999, was the first commercial satellite to provide crisp images of terrain, roads and buildings. Ordinarily, customers use the information in land-use planning, managing disasters such as wildfires and monitoring forests and crops.

The military flies its own satellites, which have much keener vision, but wanted to supplement its secret information, said John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org, a defense, space and intelligence research organization based in Virginia.

By buying up Ikonos' air time over Afghanistan, the U.S. military prevented anyone else from getting a good look at the Operation Enduring Freedom airstrike zone. NIMA gained what its contract with Space Imaging calls 'assured access' for $ 1.9 million and paid an additional $ 20 per square kilometer of images.

Joan Mears, a NIMA spokeswoman, said Tuesday that she didn't know how much the agency spent on images. The exclusive contract was initially signed Oct. 7 and lasted a month. Mears said the contract was renewed in early November and negotiations have been ongoing since December.

There are still a few areas that the Department of Defense is keeping exclusive rights to, Mears said, because of 'operational security' needs. The rest of Afghanistan images are available to people who walk into the 400-employee Space Imaging's headquarters at 12076 Grant St.

At a rate of $ 25 per image, you too can buy a 1-square-kilometer image of Afghanistan, said Mark Brender, Space Imaging's executive director of government affairs and corporate communications. The catch is the minimum purchase is 100 square kilometers. The rate is good only in North America.

Copyright 2002 The Denver Post Corporation