Images from space satellites over Manhattan show devastation during 9/11 event

As the 20th anniversary of September 11 approaches, images from space satellites show the devastation caused by the terrorist attacks that day and the evolution of disaster surveillance from space.

As the 20th anniversary of September 11 approaches, images from space satellites show the devastation caused by the terrorist attacks that day and the evolution of disaster surveillance from space.

The terrorist September 11, 2001 attacks involved four commercial planes that were hijacked and crashed into the World Trade Center towers in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, DC and a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Satellite images broadcast by Maxar Technologies capture aerial views of each location as tragic events unfolded on the ground and over the decades since.

Launched in September 1999, Maxar’s IKONOS satellite – the only high-resolution commercial satellite in orbit at the time – was used to observe the areas that had been targeted. The satellite captured large plumes of smoke rising in the sky over Manhattan on September 12, 2001, after the Twin Towers collapsed. A few days later, IKONOS took another view of Ground Zero on September 15, 2001, after most of the smoke had cleared, making the destruction of the area more clearly visible in the satellite image.

The Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia was also photographed by IKONOS on September 15, 2001. Satellite views show the crash site of American Airlines Flight 77 and damage to the left side of the government building.

Maxar’s IKONOS satellite also observed the field in Shanksville, where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed. The satellite took pictures of the area on September 13, 2001, showing the crash site, as well as a more recent view of the area, which has since been transformed into the National Flight 93 Memorial, managed by the National Park. Service. .

“These are the first unclassified satellite images made public at the scene of the September 11 attack,” according to a statement from Maxar Technologies.

Images from Maxar’s IKONOS satellite not only capture the three attack sites 20 years ago, but also more recent views as reconstruction efforts have taken place over the past two decades.

In addition to Maxar’s IKONOS satellite which tracks attack sites from orbit, an American astronaut – NASA’s Frank Culbertson – saw the tragic events of September 11 unfold from space while working on the International Space Station. About 400 kilometers above Earth, Culbertson saw a huge column of smoke billowing from Lower Manhattan where the Twin Towers fell and documented it for NASA.

The September 11 terrorist attacks launched the War on Terror, which became “the first major military campaign in history to harness unclassified commercial satellite imagery for mission planning, surveillance and intelligence gathering,” according to the Maxar statement. The geospatial intelligence of satellites (GEOINT) allows “a transparent sharing of intelligence between the commands of the American combatants and with the partners of the coalition”.

In the decades since the attacks, Earth observation satellites have become much more sophisticated, with higher resolutions, better accuracy, greater collection capacity, faster agility, and more spectral bands. . In addition, the methods of transmitting space data to Earth have also improved, allowing defense teams to collect, downlink, download and disseminate commercial satellite data faster, the statement said.

GEOINT helped locate Osama bin Laden, who was killed on May 2, 2011 in Abbottabad, Pakistan, by the US Navy SEAL 6 team. Maxar satellite imagery was used to study the structure of Ben’s compound. Laden and create a simulation of the area, which helped train the military teams that participated in the raid.

Earth observation satellites not only play an important role in security and defense, but also assist in disaster monitoring and emergency response. Satellite imagery has proven particularly useful in tracking severe weather events and environmental impacts, ranging from hurricanes and from tsunamis to earthquakes, floods, fires and oil spills, from space.


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