Posted on November 6th, 2013

Free For All – Declassified US Satellite Images

DefineDataSetsResults

Satellite imagery from the 1960s and 70s is unheard of minus an impressive set of black and white images declassified by the US government in 1992 and 2002. These panchromatic images (some  of them are even stereo!) are from a variety of US spy satellite missions launched during 1960 to 1980. The global database contains more than 900,000 images. All of the datasets can be downloaded from the USGS Earth Explorer – one thing to keep in mind is the $30 per image price point to cover scanning and media costs, so I guess this freebie is really a close-to-freebie!

Before I offer you a few tips on accessing these declassified images, a bit on the missions, coverage dates and resolution. These images were captured on film by a satellite in space; and then were literally dropped back to earth where a parachute opened on the canisters so that they could be captured in mid-air by airplanes! The first set of declassified images range from 1960 to 1972 and were collected by LANYARD (6 feet resolution), CORONA (6 to 40 feet) and ARGON (460 feet); The second set ranges from July 1963 to October 1980 and were collected by KH-7 (2 to 4 feet) and KH-9 (20 to 30 feet).

Now here are a few tips to get you up and running with a search for these declassified datasets:

  • Be sure to use Internet Explorer when you visit Earth Explorer as Chrome did not give me full functionality.
  • The datasets your purchase will be in TIFF format but will not be georeferened. Further, the online previews are only loosely referenced so be sure to check them out before you order an entire scene.
  • The easiest way to get started with a search is to click on the map to create a polygon. You can see this step in the first screen capture here.
  • To search for just the declassified images, click on the Data Sets tab and select the two items circled in red in the second screen capture. Then click the Results button circled in purple.
  • In many locations, there will be more than 100 images in the search results. To see all of these, click the ‘I’ button circled in red in the third capture. The second icon (circled in purple) will bring up georeferened previews images of each dataset.

Until my next edition of Free For All, happy hunting for free geospatial goodies!

Brock Adam McCarty
Map Wizard
(720) 470-7988
brock@apollomapping.com

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