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DARPA’s Spy Telescope Will Stream Real-Time Video from Any Spot on Earth

Dec 19, 20114 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

While you may not be concerned about Santa Claus spying on you in real-time to find out if you are good or bad, the Pentagon's research arm intends to make Santa's naughty or nice magical powers of surveillance look quaint. DARPA is working on a space-based spy telescope that can hover in orbit to "take real-time images or live video of any spot on Earth."

While you may not be concerned about Santa Claus spying on you in real-time to find out if you are good or bad, he’s not the only one who is making a list and checking it twice, planning to find out who is naughty or nice. Leave it to the DARPA, the Pentagon’s research arm, to make Santa’s magical powers of surveillance look quaint.

Satellites zooming in at any time on any spot on globe to stream real-time video is like something you see in the movies, but DARPA has envisioned a giant spy eye with a massive contact lens peering down at our planet to meet national security needs. This lens would be about 66 feet in diameter and would be attached to a space-based spy telescope in order to hover in orbit and “take real-time images or live video of any spot on Earth.” DARPA said such capabilities do not currently exist, but the Membrane Optical Imager for Real-Time Exploitation (MOIRE) program will change all of that.

“Today, aircraft are used for some imagery requirements,” DARPA noted. “Because of the huge quantity of aircraft needed, and because aircraft do not fly high enough to see into denied territories, spacecraft are also used for imagery requirements.” The listing on Federal Business Opportunities called for an “innovative system-oriented research proposals in the area of large, low cost, lightweight, deployable, visible and/or infrared electro-optical systems for persistent, tactical, real-time video over denied territory for missile launch detection and tracking from geosynchronous orbit.”

“Taking live video of a single location would require satellites to hover by matching the Earth’s rotation in geosynchronous orbit about 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) high – but creating and launching a space telescope with the huge optics arrays capable of seeing ground details from such high orbit has proven difficult,” reported MSNBC. Ball Aerospace has completed a proof-of-concept membrane optics review for the DARPA contract. “Such a telescope should be able to spot missile launcher vehicles moving at speeds of up to 60 mph on the ground. That would also require the image resolution to see objects less than 10 feet (3 m) long within a single image pixel.”

According Public Intelligence, this dream military space telescope could cost about $500 million. “It would be able to image an area greater than 100 x 100 km [almost 63 X 63 miles ] with a video update rate of at least one frame a second, providing a 99% chance of detecting a Scud-class missile launch,” reported Aviation Week.

This could give a whole new meaning to you better watch out, you better not cry . . . cause if you make it on the naughty list next year, there may be real-time streaming by the giant eye in the sky with recorded proof of how you’ve been bad or good.

This DARPA tech is not supposed to be aimed at regular folks like us, but it made me recall an ancient movie. This is not the portion showing the satellites zooming in on targets, but in today’s world of tech this no longer seems so far-fetched.

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.