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Satellite Imagery Firm Requests Lift on Resolution Limits

DigitalGlobe LogoDigitalGlobe, of Longmont, Colorado, is a commercial vendor of space imagery and geospatial content, and operator of civilian remote sensing spacecraft. Recently, the firm requested the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to lift restrictions and allow the company to provide higher resolution images.

The current regulation limits images to a resolution of a half meter (approx. 20 inches); which means an object needs to be at least that size or larger to be clearly visible. Any images taken at a higher resolution have to be made blurrier before they can be sold. Satellite ImageryDigitalGlobe would like the regulation changed to a quarter meter, or slightly less than 10 inches. The company hopes to gain business in international markets where other satellite imagery providers operate without such restrictions.

According to the NOAA spokesman, John Leslie, the limits are part of a government-wide effort “…to protect U.S. national security and or foreign policy obligation,” (source: The Hill). However, the limits were set more than 10 years ago, and industry experts feel this is a classic example of the regulatory environment not keeping pace with technological innovation; and they expect the restriction to be lifted. Leslie stated the government “periodically examines the limits on resolution to ensure there is a balance between keeping the U.S. industry as the global lead and taking into account national security concerns, foreign policy concerns and international obligations.” A decision is expected soon.

According to company founder, Walter Scott, “We’re seeing a lot of demand for higher resolution imagery,” (source: The Hill). One particular application of higher resolution images, noted by Scott, would allow for the identification of specific minerals or crops, which would be of value to a range of commercial interests. Additionally, reduced restrictions would allow American satellite companies to remain the top industry leaders.