When I mention the phrase “archive” to you, I would guess that the image that comes to mind is of dusty shelves with boxes of documents stacked on them, perhaps accompanied by the buzz of a couple of moths and the tottering steps of an ancient archivist leading the way to the information you’re looking for. And while that mental picture may be accurate for when the first Corona satellite images fell back to Earth in 1960, today an “archive” and more specifically an “imagery archive” or “library” is a much different entity—more akin to a catalog than a dusty repository where documents go to die.
The move from film to digital sensors ushered in a new age of photography—both from space and on land. Viewing the launch of IKONOS live in 1999, I knew I was watching history in the making. Almost exactly a year later IKONOS was there to image the Sydney 2000 Olympics, capturing the first ever high-resolution imagery of the Games, at the start of the new millennium. In November 2000 IKONOS won the “Best of What’s New” Grand Award in the Aviation & Space category from Popular Science magazine. Over the following 14 years IKONOS helped us direct first responders in the 2004 and 2011 tsunamis in Thailand and Japan, provided a view of the largest gathering of humanity on the planet at the Kumbh Mela on the Ganges, and captured many other images, which together created an unmatched historical record of the changing planet under and around us. DigitalGlobe founder and CTO Dr. Walter Scott celebrates IKONOS’ legacy in his blog post, the satellite that started a revolution.
Just as our personal photo collections are now instantly accessible to us via our laptops and devices, and easily shareable with our social circles via the wonders of Facebook, Instagram, and other social apps, satellite imagery of our planet is more accessible than ever. With just a few finger taps (or mouse clicks for the luddites amongst us) we can see imagery of anywhere on our planet, sometimes even in 3D. Yet even as new photos are added to these collections every day, we find ourselves constantly scrolling back through time to look at images of the past. We have a personal (and in some cases, professional) catalog of older imagery which we use to remember, compare and identify change—pounds lost, haircuts regretted, buildings knocked down, roads built, and people displaced are all captured and cataloged in those image pixels. We look to the past to understand, and to plan for the future.
As with our personal photo libraries, occasionally here at DigitalGlobe we need to upgrade our software, reorganize our Image Library and then relaunch. And, just as our older cameras are put aside, IKONOS has been decommissioned and is no longer collecting imagery, although she is still in orbit around our home planet. How fitting then, that with the 16th anniversary of IKONOS’ launch coming up on September 24, we are able to announce the treasure trove that is the IKONOS Image Library is once again available for purchase, searchable via shapefiles hyperlinked to browse imagery.
The only publically-available collection of high resolution satellite imagery of our planet with such temporal depth anywhere on Earth, the IKONOS imagery collection hugely enriches DigitalGlobe’s Image Library with its 407,000,000 square kilometers of captured imagery. Whether it’s to understand how a city has changed over the past 15 years, track construction in Rio as it prepares for the 2016 Olympics, see the condition of land prior to mining or energy exploration, or map human or animal populations, the Image Library enables us to understand where we’ve been, so we can make better decisions as to where we’re going.
Welcome back, IKONOS Image Library, and Happy Birthday IKONOS!