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The U.S. military is testing high altitude, solar-powered balloons allowing the Pentagon to conduct continuous surveillance of a wide swath of the Midwest, according to a new report.
Is there any reason why satellites aren't better for this?
They are known in the spy trade as “Keyhole-class” satellites. And they have a resolution of 5 to 6 inches, meaning they can distinguish an object that small, but no smaller, on the ground. Two other satellites are radar-imaging, built by Lockheed Martin in Watertown, Colo. Their resolution is about 3 feet.
Among the satellite's new features is its ability to capture images at 31-cm resolution, about a foot. This is the highest resolution commercially available. For example, it can hone in on a car windshield, grab a picture of a license plate, and can even see home plate on a ballfield. The satellite's infrared sensor allows it to take images through haze, fog, dust, smoke and other airborn particulates, which should be a boost for emergency crews fighting forest fires, for example, and for Google.
satellites that orbit at different altitudes have different speeds. Satellites that are further away actually travel slower. The International Space Station has a Low Earth Orbit, about 400 kilometers (250 miles) above the earth's surface. Objects orbiting at that altitude travel about 28,000 kilometers per hour (17,500 miles per hour). The GOES system of satellites, which tracks weather and other things, is in a geosynchronous orbit, 36,000 kilometers (22,000 miles) above the earth. These satellites travel at about 11,000 kilometers per hour (7,000 miles per hour). The moon, at about 380,000 kilometers from the earth (240,000 miles) only travels about 3,700 kilometers per hour (2,300 miles per hour).