Last month, satellite images taken by the private company DigitalGlobe suggested that an explosion at an Iranian military base was much larger than acknowledged by Iranian authorities. In an email interview, Tim Brown, a specialist in commercial satellite imagery at GlobalSecurity.org, discussed the commercial spy-satellite business.
WPR: How has the commercial satellite sector evolved over the past decade?
Tim Brown: At the start of 2001, there was only one high-resolution satellite in orbit -- IKONOS, operated by Space Imaging (now GeoEye). Now there are five companies, operating 15 satellites. About 70 percent of GeoEye’s and DigitalGlobe’s sales have come from the U.S. defense and intelligence community. That number is expected to hold constant over the next few years.