Capella Space Defends High-Resolution Satellite Photos Described as ‘Eerily Observant’

“A new satellite from Capella Space was described as “pretty creepy” by Bustle’s technology site Input: Like other hunks of metal currently orbiting Earth, the Capella-2 satellite‘s onboard radar system makes it capable of producing ludicrously high-resolution visuals from its data. More unconventional is the service Capella has launched to match: the government or private customers can, at any time, request a view of anything on the planet that’s visible from the sky…

The Capella-2’s system of cameras and sensors is nothing short of magnificent. The satellite uses something called Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), a technology used by NASA since the 1970s, to detect the Earth’s surface through even the densest of clouds. SAR sends a 9.65 GHz radio signal toward the Earth and interprets the signal as it returns, using that data to form a visual… The Capella-2 is now the highest-resolution commercial SAR satellite in the world, capable of 50 cm x 50 cm resolution imaging. Other satellites are only capable of resolution up to about five meters….

Once Capella’s full squadron of satellites is airborne, the company will have the ability to quickly snap views of just about any place in the world. That power could quickly be abused if left unchecked.

The article notes Capella already has a contract with the U.S. Air Force, adding “It’s not much of a stretch to imagine high-resolution SAR technology turning into a tool for national surveillance…

“Right now there’s just one Capella-2 satellite roaming around in the atmosphere, so that functionality is somewhat limited. Capella plans to launch six additional satellites with similar capabilities in the next year.”

In response on Friday Capella Space penned a blog post reminding readers that their satellite “does not see through buildings,” and that at 50-centimeter resolution “What it cannot do…is see people, license plates or reveal any personally identifiable information. Unlike other technologies that have recently been under scrutiny for privacy infringement such as cell phone geolocation data or automatic license plate readers, SAR imaging specializes in a macro view of the world to see the general patterns of life.

“Our company was founded on the belief that technology in space can significantly benefit life on Earth, and invading privacy does not help that mission. Part of that also means thoroughly vetting our customers and partners to ensure they will use our information for ethical purposes.”