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10 October 2008

Initial operational capability, GeoEye-1

Congratulations to the GeoEye team for a successful flight and successful first light. We hope their bird will fly for years to come, and peer deep into the shadow which surrounds our enemies.

We recall waiting anxiously for news of earlier payloads carried aloft for the old Orbview constellation, and the bitter shock of the failures which only contributed to the phantoms of the imaginary constellations. We are glad to see that this time around there appear to have been no mishaps.

We do find the initial target selection amusing, and we are sure that there is a backstory there somewhere waiting to be told. There is something about small, out of the way Pennsylvania colleges and the intelligence community, isn't there?

We also continue to be impressed by the rate at which spatial resolution capabilities continue to advance within privatized capabilities, which at 16 inches is certainly nothing to disregard. (By way of comparison, this is roughly the equivalent of published resolution figures for the KH-8 GAMBIT series, active in the early 1980’s).

We are pleased to note that far from arguing that commercial capabilities have nothing to offer the intelligence community, a substantial part of the mere $502 million price tag – including satellite, launch, insurance, financing and four ground stations – was paid by the National Geospatial Agency. The fact that additional funding was provided by Google – no doubt to improve the future of its Earth application series and the advertising revenue stream provided thereof – merely reinforces the fact that the commercial satellite imagery industry has certainly come a long way in the past decade. Much of this progress is due to the impact of the Long War, but equal credit is due to the fundamental changes in the way the average consumer now uses overhead imagery derived geospatial products.

Imagine what kind of constellation could have been orbiting, however, had even half of the $18 billion or so publicly reported to have been wasted on the disastrous Future Imagery Architecture instead been allocated towards a common architecture populated by Space Imaging, Orbimage, and Earthwatch / DigitalGlobe in the late 1990’s. It is the ghosts of these constellations which might have been that will most haunt us in the coming decades, we should think.

So as the engineers, mission specialists, and managers of the GeoEye program continue their celebrations in the coming days, we hope they will also lift a glass to the the birds who didn't make it, and those that never were. We certainly shall.

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