Imagery Intelligence is an intelligence gathering discipline which collects information via satellite and aerial photography
Aerial photography
Aerial photography is the taking of photographs of the ground from an elevated position. The term usually refers to images in which the camera is not supported by a ground-based structure. Cameras may be hand held or mounted, and photographs may be taken by a photographer, triggered remotely or...

. As a means of collecting intelligence, IMINT is a subset of intelligence collection management
Intelligence collection management
Intelligence Collection Management is the process of managing and organizing the collection of intelligence information from various sources. The collection department of an intelligence organization may attempt basic validation of that which it collects, but is not intended to analyze its...

, which, in turn, is a subset of intelligence cycle management
Intelligence cycle management
The intelligence cycle is a investigation process used by end users , which allows that user to gather specific information, understand the possibilities of that information, and the limitations of the intelligence process.Within the context of government, military and business affairs,...

. IMINT is especially complemented by non-imaging MASINT electro-optical and radar sensors.


Aerial intelligence goes back hundreds of years. Long in the past (the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 for example) hot air balloon
Hot air balloon
The hot air balloon is the oldest successful human-carrying flight technology. It is in a class of aircraft known as balloon aircraft. On November 21, 1783, in Paris, France, the first untethered manned flight was made by Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d'Arlandes in a hot air...

s were used to observe enemy formations far in the distance. In 1888 Amedee Denisse (France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

) studied the possibility of cameras attached to rockets to obtain photographic evidence over great distances; unfortunately this vision was likely never achieved in full Shortly after the turn of the century, the introduction of pigeons with small cameras attached to their chests became a short-lived long-distance reconnaissance option, but with obvious flaws and difficulties On the other hand, the 19th century use of fixed balloons survived into World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, when it was accompanied by observation from airship
An airship or dirigible is a type of aerostat or "lighter-than-air aircraft" that can be steered and propelled through the air using rudders and propellers or other thrust mechanisms...

s (zeppelin
A Zeppelin is a type of rigid airship pioneered by the German Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin in the early 20th century. It was based on designs he had outlined in 1874 and detailed in 1893. His plans were reviewed by committee in 1894 and patented in the United States on 14 March 1899...

s) and the newly invented airplane
Fixed-wing aircraft
A fixed-wing aircraft is an aircraft capable of flight using wings that generate lift due to the vehicle's forward airspeed. Fixed-wing aircraft are distinct from rotary-wing aircraft in which wings rotate about a fixed mast and ornithopters in which lift is generated by flapping wings.A powered...

In WW2 a Joint Imagery Intelligence unit was set up in Danesfield House
Danesfield House
Danesfield House in Medmenham, near Marlow, Buckinghamshire, England, in the Chiltern Hills is a former country house now used as a hotel and spa...

, Medmenham
Medmenham is a village and civil parish in the Wycombe district of Buckinghamshire, England. It is on the River Thames, about three and a half miles southwest of Marlow and three miles east of Henley-on-Thames....

 in Buckinghamshire
Buckinghamshire is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan home county in South East England. The county town is Aylesbury, the largest town in the ceremonial county is Milton Keynes and largest town in the non-metropolitan county is High Wycombe....

, UK for British and US Intelligence Officers to exploit imagery gathered on the Germans.

Low- and high-flying planes have been used all through the last century to gather intelligence about the enemy. At the start of the Cold War, foreseeing the need to observe the enemy in peacetime as well as war, the U.S. developed high-flying reconnaissance planes. The first, the Lockheed U-2
Lockheed U-2
The Lockheed U-2, nicknamed "Dragon Lady", is a single-engine, very high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft operated by the United States Air Force and previously flown by the Central Intelligence Agency . It provides day and night, very high-altitude , all-weather intelligence gathering...

, is still in service; its successor, the newer, much faster SR-71 Blackbird
SR-71 Blackbird
The Lockheed SR-71 "Blackbird" was an advanced, long-range, Mach 3+ strategic reconnaissance aircraft. It was developed as a black project from the Lockheed A-12 reconnaissance aircraft in the 1960s by the Lockheed Skunk Works. Clarence "Kelly" Johnson was responsible for many of the...

, was retired in 1998. These planes have the advantage over satellites that they can usually produce more detailed photographs and can be placed over the target more quickly, more often, and more cheaply, but have the disadvantage of possibly being intercepted by aircraft or missiles such as in the 1960 U-2 incident.

A new generation of unmanned reconnaissance planes has been developed for imagery and signals intelligence. Known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicle
Unmanned aerial vehicle
An unmanned aerial vehicle , also known as a unmanned aircraft system , remotely piloted aircraft or unmanned aircraft, is a machine which functions either by the remote control of a navigator or pilot or autonomously, that is, as a self-directing entity...

s, these drones are a force multiplier by giving the battlefield commander an "eye in the sky" without risking a pilot
An aviator is a person who flies an aircraft. The first recorded use of the term was in 1887, as a variation of 'aviation', from the Latin avis , coined in 1863 by G. de la Landelle in Aviation Ou Navigation Aérienne...

. The US Army
United States Army
The United States Army is the main branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for land-based military operations. It is the largest and oldest established branch of the U.S. military, and is one of seven U.S. uniformed services...

 is significantly increasing the size of its current UAV force as part of the Future Combat System initiative.


Though the resolution of satellite photographs, which must be taken from distances of hundreds of kilometers, is usually poorer than photographs taken by air
Aerial photography
Aerial photography is the taking of photographs of the ground from an elevated position. The term usually refers to images in which the camera is not supported by a ground-based structure. Cameras may be hand held or mounted, and photographs may be taken by a photographer, triggered remotely or...

, satellites offer the possibility of coverage for much of the earth, including hostile territory, without exposing human pilots to the risk of being shot down.

There have been hundreds of reconnaissance satellites launched by dozens of nations since the first years of space exploration. While the information about the vast majority of such satellites are strictly classified
Classified information
Classified information is sensitive information to which access is restricted by law or regulation to particular groups of persons. A formal security clearance is required to handle classified documents or access classified data. The clearance process requires a satisfactory background investigation...

, some information (such as that concerning the US Corona program) has been declassified with the end of the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...


Early photographic reconnaissance satellites used photographic film, which was exposed on-orbit and returned to earth for developing. These satellites remained in orbit for days, weeks, or months before ejecting their film-return vehicles, called "buckets." Between 1959 and 1984 the U.S. launched around 200 such satellites under the codenames CORONA
A corona is a type of plasma "atmosphere" of the Sun or other celestial body, extending millions of kilometers into space, most easily seen during a total solar eclipse, but also observable in a coronagraph...

A gambit is a chess opening in which a player, most often White, sacrifices material, usually a pawn, with the hope of achieving a resulting advantageous position. Some well-known examples are the King's Gambit , Queen's Gambit , and Evans Gambit...

, with photographic resolutions as high as 0.6- 1.2 meters (2-4 feet). The first successful mission concluded on 1960-08-19 with the mid-air recovery by a C-119 of film from the Corona mission code-named Discoverer 14
Discoverer 14
Discoverer 14 was a spy satellite used in the Corona program managed by DARPA and the United States Air Force. On 19 August 1960, usable photographic film images taken by the satellite were recovered by a C-119 recovery aircraft...

. This was the first successful recovery of film from an orbiting satellite and the first aerial recovery of an object returning from Earth orbit. Because of a tradeoff between area covered and ground resolution, not all reconnaissance satellites have been designed for high resolution; the KH-5
KH-5 ARGON was a series of reconnaissance satellites produced by the United States from February 1961 to August 1964. The KH-5 operated similarly to the Corona series of satellites, as it ejected a canister of photographic film. At least 12 missions were attempted, but at least 7 resulted in...

-ARGON program had a ground resolution of 140 meters and was intended for mapmaking
Cartography is the study and practice of making maps. Combining science, aesthetics, and technique, cartography builds on the premise that reality can be modeled in ways that communicate spatial information effectively.The fundamental problems of traditional cartography are to:*Set the map's...


Between 1961 and 1994 the USSR launched perhaps 500 Zenit
Zenit spy satellite
Zenit is the name of a series of military spy satellites launched by the Soviet Union between 1961 and 1994. To conceal their nature, all flights were given the public Kosmos designation...

 film-return satellites, which returned both the film and the camera to earth in a pressurized capsule.

Satellites for imaging intelligence were usually placed in low-earth, high-inclination orbits, sometimes in sun-synchronous orbit
Sun-synchronous orbit
A Sun-synchronous orbit is a geocentric orbit which combines altitude and inclination in such a way that an object on that orbit ascends or descends over any given point of the Earth's surface at the same local mean solar time. The surface illumination angle will be nearly the same every time...

s. Since the film-return missions were usually short, they could indulge in orbits with low perigee
Perigee is the point at which an object makes its closest approach to the Earth.. Often the term is used in a broader sense to define the point in an orbit where the orbiting body is closest to the body it orbits. The opposite is the apogee, the farthest or highest point.The Greek prefix "peri"...

s, in the range of 100-200 km, but the more recent CCD-based satellites have been launched into higher orbits, 250-300 km perigee, allowing each to remain in orbit for several years. While the exact resolution
Optical resolution
Optical resolution describes the ability of an imaging system to resolve detail in the object that is being imaged.An imaging system may have many individual components including a lens and recording and display components...

 and other details of modern spy satellite
Spy satellite
A spy satellite is an Earth observation satellite or communications satellite deployed for military or intelligence applications....

s are classified, some idea of the trade-offs available can be made using simple physics. The formula for the highest possible resolution of an optical system with a circular aperture is given by the Rayleigh criterion:

where θ is the angular resolution, λ is the wavelength
In physics, the wavelength of a sinusoidal wave is the spatial period of the wave—the distance over which the wave's shape repeats.It is usually determined by considering the distance between consecutive corresponding points of the same phase, such as crests, troughs, or zero crossings, and is a...

 of light, and D is the diameter of the lens or mirror. Were the Hubble Space Telescope
Hubble Space Telescope
The Hubble Space Telescope is a space telescope that was carried into orbit by a Space Shuttle in 1990 and remains in operation. A 2.4 meter aperture telescope in low Earth orbit, Hubble's four main instruments observe in the near ultraviolet, visible, and near infrared...

, with a 2.4 m telescope, designed for photographing Earth, it would be diffraction-limited to resolutions greater than 16cm (6 inches) for green light ( nm) at its orbital altitude of 590 km. This means that it would be impossible to take photographs showing objects smaller than 16cm with such a telescope at such an altitude. Modern U.S. IMINT satellites are believed to have around 10cm resolution; contrary to references in popular culture, this is sufficient to detect any type of vehicle, but not to read the headlines of a newspaper.

The U.S. KH-11
The KH-11 KENNAN, renamed CRYSTAL in 1982 and also referenced by the codenames 1010, and "Key Hole", is a type of reconnaissance satellite launched by the American National Reconnaissance Office since December 1976...

 series of satellites, first launched in 1976, was made by Lockheed
Lockheed Corporation
The Lockheed Corporation was an American aerospace company. Lockheed was founded in 1912 and later merged with Martin Marietta to form Lockheed Martin in 1995.-Origins:...

, the same contractor who built the Hubble Space Telescope
Hubble Space Telescope
The Hubble Space Telescope is a space telescope that was carried into orbit by a Space Shuttle in 1990 and remains in operation. A 2.4 meter aperture telescope in low Earth orbit, Hubble's four main instruments observe in the near ultraviolet, visible, and near infrared...

. HST has a 2.4 metre telescope mirror and is believed to have had a similar appearance to the KH-11 satellites. These satellites used charge-coupled devices, predecessors to modern digital cameras, rather than film. Russian reconnaissance satellites with comparable capabilities are named Resurs DK
Resurs DK
Resurs-DK1 is a commercial Earth observation satellite capable of transmitting high-resolution imagery to the ground stations as it passes overhead...

 and Persona
Persona (satellite)
Persona is a class of Russian reconnaissance satellites, derived from the Resurs DK class of remote sensing satellite, itself derived from the Soviet Yantar reconnaissance satellites...


The primary purpose of most spy satellites is to monitor visible ground activity. While resolution
Image resolution
Image resolution is an umbrella term that describes the detail an image holds. The term applies to raster digital images, film images, and other types of images. Higher resolution means more image detail....

 and clarity of images has improved greatly over the years, this role has remained essentially the same. Some other uses of satellite imaging have been to produce detailed 3D maps for use in operations and missile guidance systems, and to monitor normally invisible information such as the growth levels of a country's crops or the heat given off by certain facilities. Some of the multi-spectral sensors, such as thermal measurement, are more electro-optical MASINT
Electro-optical MASINT
Electro-optical MASINT is a subdiscipline of Measurement and Signature Intelligence, and refers to intelligence gathering activities which bring together disparate elements that do not fit within the definitions of Signals Intelligence , Imagery Intelligence , or Human Intelligence...

 than true IMINT platforms.

To counter the threat posed by these 'eyes in the sky', the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

, China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 and possibly others, have developed systems for destroying enemy spy satellites
Anti-satellite weapon
Anti-satellite weapons are designed to incapacitate or destroy satellites for strategic military purposes. Currently, only the United States, the former Soviet Union, and the People's Republic of China are known to have developed these weapons. On September 13, 1985, the United States destroyed US...

 (either with the use of another 'killer satellite', or with some sort of Earth- or air-launched missile).

Since 1985, commercial vendors of satellite imagery have entered the market, beginning with the French SPOT
SPOT (satellites)
SPOT is a high-resolution, optical imaging Earth observation satellite system operating from space. It is run by Spot Image based in Toulouse, France...

 satellites, which had resolutions between 5 and 20 metres. Recent high-resolution ( 4 - 0.5 metre) private imaging satellites include TerraSAR-X
TerraSAR-X, a German Earth observation satellite, is a joint venture being carried out under a public-private-partnership between the German Aerospace Center DLR and EADS Astrium GmbH; the exclusive commercial exploitation rights are held by the geo-information service provider Infoterra GmbH....

IKONOS is a commercial earth observation satellite, and was the first to collect publicly available high-resolution imagery at 1- and 4-meter resolution. It offers multispectral and panchromatic imagery. The IKONOS launch was called by John E. Pike “one of the most significant developments in...

, Orbview, QuickBird
QuickBird is a high-resolution commercial earth observation satellite, owned by DigitalGlobe and launched in 2001 as the first satellite in a constellation of three scheduled to be in orbit by 2008...

 and Worldview-1
WorldView-1 is a commercial earth observation satellite owned by DigitalGlobe. It was launched September 18, 2007, and DigitalGlobe plans to launch another, similar satellite after its construction is finished in late 2008...

, allowing any country (or any business for that matter) to buy access to satellite images.

Unmanned aerial vehicles

Unmanned aerial vehicle
An unmanned aerial vehicle , also known as a unmanned aircraft system , remotely piloted aircraft or unmanned aircraft, is a machine which functions either by the remote control of a navigator or pilot or autonomously, that is, as a self-directing entity...

 have developed until they span a spectrum of literally handheld imaging platforms for infantry tactical use, up to large multisensor platforms such as Global Hawk. Global Hawk, with its long loiter time and global reach, has some of the attributes of a satellite
In the context of spaceflight, a satellite is an object which has been placed into orbit by human endeavour. Such objects are sometimes called artificial satellites to distinguish them from natural satellites such as the Moon....

 in a lower earth orbit than would be feasible for a true orbiter
An orbiter is a space probe that orbits a planet.-Asteroids:*NEAR Shoemaker...


See also

    JARIC - The National Imagery Exploitation Centre, part of the Intelligence Collection Group within United Kingdom Defence Intelligence, is an imagery analysis and intelligence centre based at RAF Brampton near Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire, and historically known as MI4, by which name it is still...

     at RAF Brampton
    RAF Brampton
    RAF Brampton is a Royal Air Force station near Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire. Formerly the home of RAF Support Command, it now houses several elements of Defence Equipment & Support , which itself was a result of a merger between the Defence Logistics Organisation and the Defence Procurement Agency...

     (UK interpretation center)
  • MASINT: Measurement and Signature Intelligence
  • DIGO
    The Digo are an ethnic and linguistic group based near the Indian Ocean coast between Mombasa in southern Kenya and Tanga in northern Tanzania. In 1994 the Digo population was estimated to total 305,000, with 217,000 ethnic Digo living in Kenya and 88,000 in Tanzania. Digo people speak the Digo...

    Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

     Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation)
  • National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
    National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
    The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is an agency of the federal government of the United States with the primary mission of collecting, analyzing and distributing geospatial intelligence in support of national security. NGA was formerly known as the National Imagery and Mapping Agency ...

     (U.S. interpretation center)
  • RAF Intelligence
    RAF Intelligence
    Intelligence services in the Royal Air Force is delivered by Officers of the Royal Air Force Operations Support Intelligence Branch and Airmen from the Intelligence Analyst Trade and Intelligence Analyst Trade...

    : Royal Air Force
    Royal Air Force
    The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

     Intelligence Branch
    Geospatial intelligence, GEOINT , GeoIntel , or GSI has no universally accepted definition and it has been said that if you "ask 10 people to define 'geospatial intelligence,' and you are likely to get 10 different answers."-Official definition:The...

    : Geospatial Intelligence
    Geographic information systems in geospatial intelligence
    Geographic Information Systems new and constantly evolving role in geospatial intelligence and United States national security allows a user to efficiently manage, analyze, and produce geospatial data, to combine GEOINT with other forms of intelligence collection, and to perform highly developed...

  • Dino A. Brugioni
    Dino Brugioni
    Dino A. Brugioni is a former senior official at the CIA's National Photographic Interpretation Center . He was an imagery analyst and also served as NPIC's Chief of Information. During his 35-year career, Brugioni helped establish imagery intelligence as a national asset to solve intelligence...

  • Arthur C. Lundahl
    Arthur C. Lundahl
    Arthur Charles Lundahl was the key organizer of the US post-World War II imagery intelligence an aerial-photography expert whose detection of missile installations in Cuba in 1962 led to the Cuban missile crisis....

  • Stewardship
    Stewardship is an ethic that embodies responsible planning and management of resources. The concept of stewardship has been applied in diverse realms, including with respect to environment, economics, health, property, information, and religion, and is linked to the concept of sustainability...

    : Geospatial intelligence

Further reading

  • Maya Quiñones, William Gould, and Carlos D. Rodríguez-Pedraza. United States Department of Agriculture
    United States Department of Agriculture
    The United States Department of Agriculture is the United States federal executive department responsible for developing and executing U.S. federal government policy on farming, agriculture, and food...

    Geospatial Data Availability for Haiti (February 2007) (Study on availability of commercial imagery in 2007 which summarizes collection systems and data products.)

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.