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What is high-resolution satellite imagery?

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High-resolution satellite imagery includes photographs taken from Earth orbit for military, environmental, weather-predicting, data-gathering, geographic, cartographic and fire-fighting purposes. Image quality depends on factors such as radiometric resolution, accuracy, sharpness and geometric resolution. As of 2009, commercially available high-resolution satellite imagery was able to acquire accurate images with a resolution of 20 inches to 8.2 feet.

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As of 2009, images from the WorldView-1, QuickBird and Cartosat-1 satellites all offered images that were more easily obtained by satellite than by airplane flights due to inaccessible, remote locations. Earth-based aerial photographs offered resolutions down to 4 to 8 inches, in 2009.

The best civilian resolution obtainable in 2009 was 0.4 meter. Objects larger than 20 inches appeared on high-resolution satellite imagery for public use. Most satellites in 2009 could not detect individual people because most humans are less than 20 inches in depth.

In June 2014, the U.S. government approved the release of high-resolution images from DigitalGlobe satellites. In August 2014, companies were able to purchase satellite images with resolution down to 10 inches, giving clients the ability to identify the make of an individual car from Earth orbit, as opposed to just identifying the color of a car. Should DigitalGlobe fly its satellites lower, it could provide images with even better resolution.

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