MDA’s RADARSAT-2 now reliably monitors hundreds of sites around the world for DigitalGlobe’s SecureWatch Service

Commercial satellite imagery is increasingly relied upon by defence and intelligence organizations around the world as a crucial input to geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) activities. In many cases, commercial imagery is the main source for near real-time insights in top priority areas; in other cases, commercial imagery is used to extend a GEOINT organization’s data-gathering capabilities by monitoring locations which would not otherwise be covered.

DigitalGlobe and MDA, two Maxar Technologies companies, are known as the premiere commercial satellite imagery providers to the GEOINT community. DigitalGlobe’s Electro-Optical (EO) satellite constellation offers the highest resolution commercial imagery available, while MDA’s RADARSAT-2 provides the most versatile and reliable Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery on the market.

Together, DigitalGlobe and MDA are creating innovative new ways to reduce the barriers to using commercial satellite imagery. In 2017, DigitalGlobe launched SecureWatch - a powerful cloud-based GEOINT service providing access to DigitalGlobe’s vast archive of high resolution imagery around the world, and powerful analytics tools. Now, MDA is adding RADARSAT-2 imagery to SecureWatch, providing reliable, weekly monitoring of hundreds of sites around the world, regardless of clouds, which can obscure EO imagery.

This new capability means even more reliable and timely information will be available to SecureWatch subscribers who require up-to-date imagery of high priority areas. An example of a WorldView-2 EO image and a RADARSAT-2 SAR image taken on different dates over the same naval facility in Peru are shown below in the SecureWatch interface.

WorldView-2 and RADARSAT-2 imagery of the same naval facility, taken on different dates.

How does RADARSAT-2 provide reliable, consistent imaging, even through clouds? It all has to do with the electromagnetic spectrum. EO satellites typically operate in the ‘visible spectrum’, the range of wavelengths which the human eye can see, creating beautiful, easy-to-interpret images. In the visible spectrum, however, clouds are opaque, meaning that cloudy sites may not be visible for days or weeks. However, SAR sensors operate in the ‘microwave’ part of the spectrum, in which clouds are transparent. The result is that SAR satellites can see through cloud, although the images they produce can look very different from what the human eye is used to seeing. Additionally, while EO images rely on sunlight reflected off of the surface of the Earth, SAR satellites create their own ‘light’ by emitting microwave energy that bounces off the surface of the earth and is reflected back to the satellite. This enables SAR satellites to have consistent ‘lighting’ – even during different seasons when sunlight levels may vary widely.

Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) operates in a different part of the electromagnetic spectrum than the visible light which most people are used to seeing in EO images. As a result, SAR sensors are able to acquire imagery through clouds.

Because of their different capabilities, EO and SAR satellites are highly complementary approaches for monitoring sites around the globe. With the intuitive interpretability of EO imagery, features on the ground are easy to classify or identify, while SAR provides the ability to routinely and reliably acquire updates on activity during any weather.

This is easily demonstrated by returning to the images of a naval facility shown earlier. By using the EO imagery to classify ships at port, and SAR imagery to count how many ships are present on an ongoing basis, SecureWatch now unlocks the ability to monitor activities routinely, even during cloudy seasons.

It’s never been easier to harness the power of DigitalGlobe and MDA’s satellite imagery in one place, and we’re excited about the possibilities for our users to make the most of this new capability, enabling more GEOINT insights.

Comparing WorldView-2 and RADARSAT-2 imagery within SecureWatch enables real insights, such as ship movements at this naval facility.

For more on DigitalGlobe’s SecureWatch service, read their latest blog post or visit: https://www.digitalglobe.com/products/securewatch

For more on RADARSAT-2, visit:

https://mdacorporation.com/geospatial/international/satellites/RADARSAT-2

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