From Desert Battlefields To Coral Reefs, Private Satellites Revolutionize The View

NPR Story: “As the U.S. military and its allies attacked the last Islamic State holdouts last year, it wasn’t clear how many civilians were still in the besieged desert town of Baghouz, Syria.

So Human Rights Watch asked a private satellite company, Planet, for its regular daily photos and also made a special request for video.

“That live video actually was instrumental in convincing us that there were thousands of civilians trapped in this pocket,” said Josh Lyons of Human Rights Watch. “Therefore, the coalition forces absolutely had an obligation to stop and to avoid bombardment of that pocket at that time.”

Which they did until the civilians fled.

Lyons, who’s based in Geneva, has a job title you wouldn’t expect at a human rights group: director of geospatial analysis. He says satellite imagery is increasingly a crucial component of human rights investigations, bolstering traditional eyewitness accounts, especially in areas where it’s too dangerous to send researchers.

“Then we have this magical sort of fusion of data between open-source, eyewitness testimony and data from space. And that becomes essentially a new gold standard for investigations,” he said.

‘A string of pearls’

Satellite photos used to be restricted to the U.S. government and a handful of other nations. Now such imagery is available to everyone, creating a new world of possibilities for human rights groups, environmentalists and researchers who monitor nuclear programs.

They get those images from a handful of private, commercial satellite companies, like Planet and Maxar….(More)”.