Commercial remote-sensing-services provider DigitalGlobe has confirmed that the satellite images it provided to Australian search-and-rescue authorities in the hunt for missing Flight 370 were captured on March 16 by its WorldView-2 satellite at a panchromatic resolution of approximately 50 cm.
“Working with our customers, DigitalGlobe continues to task our satellites to collect imagery of a wide area that includes the waters around where the possible debris was identified yesterday,” the company said in a March 20 statement.
DigitalGlobe says Australian authorities have used WorldView-2’s high-resolution satellite imagery to locate two large objects in the Indian Ocean some 2,500 km off the country’s southwestern coast, objects that could form part of a debris field associated with a potential crash site. Although the panchromatic and multispectral images were captured March 16, John Young, general manager for the emergency response division of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), said Australian geospatial-intelligence officials did not hand over the assessed WorldView-2 data to AMSA until this morning.
DigitalGlobe said given the extraordinary size of the current search area, “the lengthy duration of the analysis effort was to be expected,” according to the March 20 statement.
The company said its constellation of five high-resolution imaging satellites captures more than 3 million sq. km of data each day, “and this volume of imagery is far too vast to search through in real time without an idea of where to look.”
DigitalGlobe said it has been applying satellite resources over a broader area than the official search zone, while only focusing the efforts of its Tomnod crowdsourcing platform on search areas identified by authorities, the company said.
“The efforts of millions of online volunteers around the world allowed us to rule out broad swaths of ocean with some certainty,” DigitalGlobe said.
As part of the search effort, DigitalGlobe has been using its Tomnod crowdsourcing platform to engage the public in the hunt for the missing aircraft. The company has charged its constellation, including sub-meter-resolution satellites WorldView-1, WorldView-2 and GeoEye-1, to capture images of the Indian Ocean and surrounding areas, and is uploading archived and new imagery to the site, where amateur data analysts can peruse pictures and tag potential signs of wreckage.
Since the plane went missing, Tomnod has added upward of 3.6 million participants and generated more than 385 million map views on the site. Tomnod uses a CrowdRank algorithm to identify overlaps in tagged locations before they are culled by DigitalGlobe analysts.
In the meantime, AMSA said commercial satellites were recently redirected to take additional high-resolution images of the areas of interest, and that further imagery is expected “in due course.”
In the meantime, other DigitalGlobe customers, including the U.S. and other governments, “have been receiving our imagery for their own search efforts.” DigitalGlobe said. “Based on our understanding, the search area expanded to the southern Indian Ocean region and waters near Australia only in the last few days, at which time the Australian government started combing through imagery of this extremely large area.”