These exclusive satellite images show Saudi Arabia’s sci-fi megacity is well underway
One of the main commercial uses of satellite imagery is to help companies understand how their competitors or entire countries are performing in the global market—for example, to see “existing how many cranes are operating in the sky over Manhattan, or [how many] Jamon Van Den Hoek, a professor of geography and director of the Conflict Ecology Laboratory at Oregon State University, said the tankers are docking.
Van Den Hoek said: “Without the Maxar image captured on an area that is experiencing rapid economic investment, something suspicious is going on. “Perhaps the simplest solution for profit is to buy those images at the highest level, where they maintain a monopoly on them.”
Not everyone agrees. Doug Specht, a geography lecturer at the University of Westminster in London, said: “I haven’t heard of any commercial companies trying to limit things. “My immediate reaction is that nobody bothers with high resolution because it is in the middle of the desert and high resolution images are extremely expensive to own and distribute.”
“We don’t have any recent high-resolution images collected of these areas,” Stephen Wood, senior director of news office Maxar, told MIT Technology Review. He writes that the company primarily focuses on areas of customer interest but “when we have time to shoot available, we will collect other areas as part of our overall mission.” is to continuously update high resolution images globally. We tend to focus first on the regions that show the most change (e.g. cities, etc.) but will also fill other regions of the globe.”
When asked if customers might have exclusive access to Maxar’s images, Wood replied: “The vast majority of everything we collect goes into the public image archive, which is the foundation. for our image business. Those images are available for purchase, and we ultimately serve our customers through a range of different contract types.”
High-resolution Planet images of portions of The Line appear to be available for licensing, although no images have appeared publicly on Google Maps to date.
A Google spokesperson told MIT Technology Review: “We continuously update satellite imagery as it becomes available from our imaging providers. Since our providers are typically focused on more densely populated cities and locations, these areas tend to receive updated imagery more frequently.” Satellite images on Google Maps cover only about a fifth of the Earth’s surface—but make up 98% of its population.
Although the entire surface of the planet is imaged several times a day in low resolution, the sharpest images from the latest commercial satellites can still cost upwards of $3,000, according to the price list at Apollo Imaging, a satellite image aggregator. These are far from comprehensive, and some images are not publicly accessible for national security reasons, a process known as shutter control. For example, many Chinese imaging companies will not sell any satellite imagery of China, North Korea, Taiwan or Tibet.