The reason for this post is because I have seen a lot of debate about the capabilities of satellite imagery (I’ve seen the term diffraction limited used.)
A reminder that in 2019, President Trump tweeted this:
The picture was of a rocket that had exploded on a launch pad deep inside of Iran. It was so crisp, that some initially thought it may not have been taken by a satellite.
“This picture is so exquisite, and you see so much detail,” says Jeffrey Lewis, who studies satellite imagery at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. “At first, I thought it must have been taken by a drone or something.”
But aerospace experts quickly determined it was photographed using one of America’s most prized intelligence assets: a classified spacecraft called USA 224 that is widely believed to be a multibillion-dollar KH-11 reconnaissance satellite.
Now, three years after Trump’s tweet, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) has formally declassified the original image. The declassification, which came as the result of a Freedom of Information Act request by NPR, followed a grueling Pentagon-wide review to determine whether the briefing slide it came from could be shared with the public.
My point is that it is not in the best interest of governments to disclose all of the abilities of your latest and greatest tech. It is very possible that there are satellites we are trying to analyze by looking up their specs that in fact have missing/obfuscated specifications for security reasons.
This picture shows that we were capable of obtaining a very clear, crisp satellite image before anyone knew that we could – as they mistakenly attributed it to drone findings. We simply don’t know enough about the potential hidden specifications of military tech to say if a certain image was possible/impossible.