GEOINT down to the engineering level made Bin Laden raid possible

Need for imagery from the Middle East and other locales is driving demand

Tighter budgets and the drawdowns in Afghanistan and Iraq aren’t enough to stop the increasing desire for more satellite bandwidth. Companies throughout the supply chain are still winning contracts as users seek more data from high-resolution sensors.

A number of factors are driving this growth. There’s still demand for imagery from the Middle East. In addition, the Defense Department’s2012 “Sustaining Global U.S. Leadership” report details growing needs in South Asia, Africa and other locales.

At the same time, satellites are carrying more sensors that provide higher resolution. Cameras are being augmented by a host of technologies, including radar and temperature sensors.

“Radar and thermal data offer a lot,” said Gerald Kinn, senior member of ESRI’s Imagery Team. “Thermal lets you understand aspects of geography that you can’t determine otherwise. You can look at a vehicle and tell if it’s running or not. If conditions are right, you can tell if a vehicle is occupied.”

Artel is among the companies that continue to expand capabilities to meet rising demand. In September, Artel won a Future COMSATCOM Services Acquisition deal, pushing its contracts to $2.6 billion for five years. In the summer, Artel opened a network operations center to handle the massive amount of data the company is transporting over the DOD’s Global Information Grid.

Though there’s been a lot of talk about cutbacks, the Satellite Industry Association said global satellite industry grew 5 percent in 2011, matching the increase seen in 2010. Revenues hit $177.3 billion in 2011.

The increased bandwidth is helping warfighters by letting them see more. The raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound highlights the benefits that come from higher-resolution images that give troops the detail needed inside a small assault zone. Kinn noted that imagery has progressed down to engineering drawing levels where the ratio between the image and the real world 1:2,000. That’s far better than the 1:50,000 map ratios of the past.

“Today’s imagery is much more up close and personal than it was before the second Gulf War,” Kinn said. “When you’re fighting a war where your battle may be within a compound, it’s important to have imagery that goes down to the engineering level. That makes high resolution a necessity.

Suppliers are also focusing on the need for rapid data distribution after images get to Earth. One goal is to improve speeds for warfighters in the field.

“Once data is on the ground, processing speed and transmission rates are very important,” said Jack Hild, vice president of U.S. Defense Strategy at DigitalGlobe. “A lot of it is network related, someone sitting at a desk in Washington, D.C., may have the best network available, while someone in the field may have very limited bandwidth.”

Inmarsat focused on this trend in September pacts with Cobham Satcom, Paradigm Comm and Skyware Global. Those companies will make terminals that will receive data from Inmarsat’s Global Xpress, running at up to 50 megabits/sec.

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