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Satellite Image Companies Rush Imagery to Analysts Searching for MH370

Friday, March 14th 2014
By Joe Francica

Satellite image data providers have rushed imagery to analysts looked for missing flight Malaysian Airlines #370. DigitalGlobe, Airbus Defence and Space as well as BlackBridge have all released imagery over the search area where authorities believe the plane may have gone down.

DigitalGlobe is using their Tomnod crowdsourcing platform to search for the missing plane. According to the company, new imagery is uploaded as often as possible with 10 new images were included in last night’s refresh, including the Straits of Malacca. Sources at DigitalGlobe can confirm that it has tasked satellites to capture more of the Indian Ocean, per the latest insight from authorities. So far, the crowdsourcing effort via the Tomnod platform has yielded the following results:

  • 3M+ Participants
  • 190 Million Map views
  • 24,000 km2 of imagery has been added to the Tomnod platform
  • Every pixel has been looked at by live human eyes at least 30 times 
  • ~14,000 km2 are being added over the next 24 hours (some of which of a new area in the Indian Ocean)
  • Over 1.7 Million features have been tagged in the imagery by the crowd

From BlackBridge is making data from the RapidEye satellite available and using a MapBox platform to allow crowdsourcing. The imagery is from the east coast of Malaysia in the Gulf of Thailand. Imagery avialable is very limited. See below:

The five-meter spatial resolution of the RapidEye satellites is in contrast to the 0.5 meter DigitalGlobe imagery. The interpreted objects appear quite fuzzy leading to possible misinterpretations and errors of commission or omission.

From Airbus Defense and Space, they too have released imagery to the Malaysian Remotes Sensing Agency but not for crowdsourcing. Imagery Airbus has provided is as follows (Source: Airbus):

The day after the aircraft disappeared, the very high resolution Pléaides 1A and 1B satellites, the high resolution SPOT 5 and 6 satellites and the synthetic aperture radar satellites TerraSAR-X have been programmed to take images of the search zone. All the data collected are analysed by Airbus Defence and Space maritime experts and provided to the Malaysian Remote Sensing Agency (MRSA). Moreover, Pléiades images are also transferred, via CNES, and TerraSAR-X images via DLR, to the Chinese Meteorological Administration who has request the Disaster Charter activation on the 11th of March.

Since Sunday 9th of March, the experts of Airbus Defence and Space have been analyzing the images taken by the optical and radar satellites. The radar satellites like TerraSAR-X are able to identify layers of hydrocarbon as well as any oil slick or metallic objects floating on the sea. The resolution of the optical satellites Pléiades 1A & 1B (50 cm after resampling) and SPOT 5 and 6 allow for identification and characterization of small objects over large surfaces.

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