09:58 AM

Congress Cuts BASIC Satellite Imaging Program

Critics of the program observe that private companies GeoEye and DigitalGlobe are already on the way to providing advanced satellite imaging commercially.

Congress has dropped the Department of Defense's proposal for funds to launch satellites that would provide images of objects as small as 16 inches, but consumers can still look forward to viewing such small images anyway.

The Associated Press reported that U.S. House and Senate committees canceled funds for the National Reconnaissance Office's Broad Area Space-Based Imagery Collection (Basic) at least partially because commercial companies GeoEye and DigitalGlobe are already well on the way to providing the advanced imaging commercially.

While funding for the secret program was never announced, Basic was expected to cost $1.7 billion -- a figure that was considered too high in the current financial meltdown. Initially, the program called for the National Reconnaissance Office to launch two satellites.

Critics of the government program observed that GeoEye and DigitalGlobe are already active in that sector and will be available to supply imagery to the Pentagon. An earlier attempt to launch a constellation of satellites to provide half-meter images was aborted by Boeing after racking up substantial cost overruns.

Earlier this month, GeoEye, of Dulles, Va., released the first color half-meter ground resolution taken from its GeoEye-1 satellite. "We are bringing GeoEye-1 into service within four years of our contract award with no contract cost overruns," said Bill Schuster, the company's chief operating officer, in a statement. "The entire program, which includes the satellite, launch, insurance, financing, and four ground stations was less then $502 million."

Both Google and Microsoft have agreements with GeoEye and DigitalGlobe to provide imaging for their respective mapping services.

Already boasting Google as a customer, DigitalGlobe, of Longmont, Colo., this month also signed Microsoft to a multiyear contract to provide high-resolution satellite and aerial imagery for Microsoft's Virtual Earth service. DigitalGlobe's ImageLibrary features more than 460 million square kilometers of premium Earth imagery. DigitalGlobe provides high resolution for Google Maps and Google Earth.

The high-resolution technology offers a new unobtrusive way of monitoring trouble sites like nuclear installations as well as a way to determine the extent of humanitarian crises such as floods and draughts. Early versions of the imaging were used to provide a close-up aerial perspective of the damage caused in New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina.

The Associated Press quoted anonymous sources saying that $300 million will be earmarked for the Pentagon to continue studying the technology to determine whether it may need to revive its own advanced imaging program.

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