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Friday, Jun 22, 2018
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DigitalGlobe training satellites on Ukraine

DigitalGlobe, a satellite imagery company with an office in Tampa, is training its eyes in the sky on Ukraine as the result of a passenger plane Ukrainian authorities say was shot down with nearly 300 passengers and crew on board.

“We are definitely working on this” through the company's service called FirstLook, said Alex Dunmire, DigitalGlobe's Tampa-based senior director of analytical services.

FirstLook is an online subscription service for emergency management providing “fast web-based access to pre- and post-event imagery of world disasters delivered to almost any desktop or web-based mapping platform,” according to the company's website. Up-to-the-minute, high-resolution satellite images “provide the essential information required for emergency planning, risk assessment, monitoring of staging areas and crisis response, damage assessment, and recovery.”

“This is definitely a FirstLook event,” said Dunmire, a former Navy intelligence officer. “We are in the process of tasking satellite shots.”

Dunmire said though the FirstLook team works at the company's Colorado headquarters, it reports directly to him.

Using one or more of the company's five satellites, “our guys will basically start shooting imagery” of the disaster area, said Dunmire.

Potential clients could be governments with limited or no satellite systems that might have passengers on board, first responders trying to assess the scope of the debris field and even the media seeking images, Dunmire said.

It is also possible, if requested, for the company to assist with a forensic analysis of the situation, comparing previously taken images of the area against contemporary images to locate military vehicles capable of taking down a passenger jet traveling at about 33,000 feet, like the Malaysia Air Flight MH17 out of Amsterdam bound for Kuala Lumpur. Ukraine authorities say the plane was shot down by a Buk mechanized surface-to-air missile launcher that fires a warhead capable of reaching 72,000 feet, according to the Associated Press.

One advantage of DigitalGlobe's commercial imagery is that it is unclassified.

“That makes it much easier to share,” said Dunmire.

The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency could conceivably use DigitalGlobe's highest resolution satellite images as part of a contract it has with the company and others that have satellites in orbit. The agency, which specializes in imagery intelligence, only acts if called upon by the State Department or a military command like U.S. European Command, which oversees U.S. military operations throughout Europe, including Ukraine.

Officials from the agency declined comment.

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