Mapping the Haitian Disaster

Posted by Sam Churchill on

Google News, Yahoo News and Blogrunner have coverage on the Haitian Earthquake. CNN reports that four of Twitter’s top topics were related to Haiti earthquake relief. Other news is available from the BBC, Newshour, NPR, Internet Radio, Haitian Radio, and Facebook and Google.

The multi-national relief effort in Haiti is extremely difficult due to a demolished seaport, a congested one-runway airport, and a shattered communications system. Supplies cannot come in by sea since Haiti’s main seaport has “collapsed and is not operational.”

Cranes that moved containers on and off ships at the port are now partially under water. Ships carrying supplies have nowhere to dock. Parking space on the airport ramp is limited, and many military and humanitarian aircraft are already on the ground there. The airport has also run out of aircraft fuel, so inbound planes have to carry enough fuel to be able to leave without refueling.

Google says they’re working closely with GeoEye to make their most recent satellite imagery of Haiti, available as a KML overlay for Google Earth.

Here are some commercial terrain visualization software packages that transform Lidar and DEMs into flybys. MDA’s Geospatial Services provide Earth observation data and services from aerial platforms and the majority of commercially available radar and optical satellites.

You can download the KML here and open it in Google Earth, or look at it via the browser plug-in below. You can also open the file in Google Maps.

As you’ll see, the imagery shows a powerful glimpse into the destruction in Haiti. Here are before-and-after screenshots of the Presidential Palace and an area of Port-au-Prince:

click to see full-size

Google says they will continue to automatically update the layer (you’ll only need to download it once) as they are able to make more imagery and data available.

GeoEye is the world’s largest space imaging corporation and was founded in 1992 as a division of Orbital Sciences Corporation. It changed its name to GeoEye in 2006 after acquiring Denver, Colorado-based Space Imaging for $58 million. GeoEye, DigitalGlobe and Spot Image are the largest private companies in the satellite imaging business.

Japan’s Advanced Land Observing Satellite, the French Spot 5, ESA’s ERS-2 and Envisat and Canada’s Radarsat 2 have been tasked to capture high-priority data of Haiti, reports Spaceflight Now.

DigitalGlobe’s WorldView-2 Satellite, launched October 8, 2009, provides 0.5m Panchromatic (B&W) mono and stereo satellite image data.

GeoEye-2 is a planned third generation commercial Earth observation satellite, due to launch in 2011 or 2012. The satellite will have a resolution of 0.25m, or almost 10 inches, making it the highest resolution commercial Earth observation satellite in orbit, once it has been launched. GeoEye-2’s mirror measures 1.1 meter in diameter.

Microsoft Virtual Earth, now called the Bing Maps Platform, is a competitor to Google Earth, taps into the resouces of Microsoft’s TerraServer which assembles a large variety of aerial photos, satellite images, oblique imagery and USGS topo maps. Microsoft’s Streetside provides real-life perspectives by letting users travel down to the street level to explore locations almost as if you were standing there in person.

The sensor unit of Vexcel’s UltraCamD consists of eight independent cameras, so-called cones. Four of them create a large-format panchromatic image of size 11,500 x 7,500 pixel, and the other four cameras are responsible for multispectral channels (red, green, blue, and near infrared).

The NRO canceled the electro-optical portion of FIA and scrambled to develop a solution. That solution was essentially to divide the government’s requirements into three “tiers”. Tier 1 is high-resolution imagery, Tier 2 is medium-resolution imagery, and Tier 3 is lower-resolution imagery, such as GeoEye and DigitalGlobe.

KH-11 reportedly has a 2.3 meter primary mirror, similar to Hubble’s, except looking down. According to an estimate by the private Federation of American Scientists (FAS), three satellites operated by the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) have resolutions as sharp as 10 centimeters (3.93 inches). The NRO plans to launch another imagery satellite with a 2.5 meter mirror later this year. TacSat-3 can provide satellite imagery to users in the field, even task a satellite remotely. TacSat-4 won’t launch until August 2010.

France’s Helios IIB spy satellite was launched on Dec 18. Their ground resolution is about 50 cm.

Google’s Street View uses a Tricyle to go places cars can’t. Google uses Iconix cameras and German SiCK LMS 200 laser scanners. Google has released an experimental browser plugin that will make it possible to display rich 3D graphics in Web content.

OpenStreetMap can produce a map more accurate than anything else on the market, reports the BBC. That’s because it’s created by people on the ground. For local ground truth, the SPOT Satellite Communicator, merges SPOT satellite messaging with DeLorme GPS mapping.

Open Street Maps is developing a free iPhone App for Haiti using current satellite imagery. Volunteers adapted an existing iPhone app ( to provide offline maps to for relief workers. It combines Digital Globe (1m resolution), GeoEye (.5m resolution updated on 1/13), and OpenStreetMap (constantly being updated).

OpenStreetMap contributors around the world are now tracing over satellite imagery made available by GeoEye and others. Geofabrik is providing a special download server that has OSM data extracts, shape files, and Garmin maps created from OSM data, all updated every five minutes in order to put mappers’ work to maximum use.

Open source resource mapping projects like Oregon Explorer ( and Willamette Basin Explorer ( can make databases, created by government silos, available to everyone using the expertise of Oregon State’s Open Source Lab. OpenOceanMap ( is an ambitious project to break the ties of traditional geo-spatial data collection and develop a truly cross platform, Open Source, and transportable decision support tool. Their Gulf Project demo shows the utility of combining open source data bases.

San Francisco’s solar-powered transit shelter WiFi, the first of at least 1,100, will replace existing shelters around the City. Transit shelters that use photovoltaics, LEDs, and WiFi could be one way to supply emergency communications services. ICO, Terrestar and Inmarsat could provide the backbone.

A digital pony express is operating in Cambodia. The system, developed by First Mile Solutions, uses a receiver box powered by the motorcycle’s battery.

Five Motomen ride their routes five days a week, downloading and uploading e-mail. The driver need only roll slowly past the school to download all the village’s outgoing e-mail and deliver incoming e-mail.

Using 5 Honda motorcycles equipped with FMS Mobile Access Points, it links to 15 solar-powered village schools, telemedicine clinics, and governor’s office. At dusk, the motorcycles converge on the provincial capital, where a school with a satellite modem, allows a bulk e-mail exchange with the outside world.

Intelsat established two communication networks for Haiti — one in C-band and one in Ku-band. The two networks use its GlobalConnex Network Broadband service, and are supporting governments, non-governmental organizations, network service providers, media, telecommunication operators and humanitarian efforts countrywide.

Its GlobalConnex service is provided via capacity on its Intelsat 907 and Horizons 2 satellites (above), located at 335.5º E and 74º W respectively.

Two Low Earth Orbit systems (Iridium and Globalstar) and one GEO systems (Inmarsat), provide world-wide satphone service. Regional GEO-based systems include Thuraya (which covers the middle East), while North America is covered by TerreStar and ICO. Orbcomm does data, not voice.

North America will also get SkyTerra satphone service (at 1.6 GHz), which is scheduled to launch later this year. SkyTerra’s handsets will work on both Terrestrial 700 MHz Public Safety networks and on satellites. Terrestar’s handsets work on AT&T’s cellular network and satellites.

Terrestar launched their monster geosych satphone bird on July 1, 2009, and expects to partner with AT&T Mobility on a pocketable satphone. On January 13, 2010, the FCC granted TerreStar authority to integrate terrestrial repeaters on their spectrum.

Terrestar’s satellites employ large 12 meter mesh antenna reflectors, which enables services to small mobile and portable devices via spotbeams (above).

TerreStar plans to integrate its 20 MHz satphone service with AT&T’s terrestrial cellular network to provide ubiquitous service throughout North America.

The giant space antenna and terrestrial repeaters enable inexpensive, pocket-size handsets (right).

TerreStar’s satphone service is now operational. It features dual-band operation, working with AT&T’s cellular network. SkyTerra’s dualband satphones, by contrast, combines a satphone handset with terrestrial 700 MHz Public Safety radio networks. SkyTerra’s 700MHz/satphone service (in the 1.6 GHz “L” band) may be available later this year, after their satellite launches.

Both ICO and TerreStar have 20 MHz each of spectrum in the MSS band (2.0/2.1 GHz). ICO’s G1 satellite was the first in a new generation of satphones that uses geosynchronous space, the new MSS spectrum, and a huge Beam Forming Antenna in Space.

ICO later shifted their focus from satphones to delivering multimedia to automobiles. Unfortunately, while ICO was successfully launched and became operational in 2008, the company filed for bankruptcy under the name of DBSD North America, in May 2009. DBSD will continue to manage its properties and operate its businesses as a “debtor-in-possession” and this year regained its Nasdaq Listing.

Presumably, both ICO and Terrestar satellites might be able to provide coverage to Haiti, although that is not clear. Terrestar, with cell/satphone service, will began commercial operation in the “first or second quarter” of 2010. SkyTerra, with 700MHz/satphone service, will launch later this year.

SkyTerra delivers mobile wireless voice and data services primarily for public safety, security, fleet management and asset tracking in the U.S. and Canada. Beginning in the first quarter of 2010, MSV will deploy two geostationary satellites, each with a 22 meter antennas using the L-band (1.6 GHz).

Inmarsat-4 completed the firm’s globe-spanning, 3-satellite broadband network in 2008 with the F3 satellite. Each of the three I-4 satellites can generate 19 wide beams and more than 200 spot beams using its 30 by 39 feet antenna. Inmarsat F-3 entered commercial service on 7 January 2009.

Inmarsat’s BGAN (Broadband Global Area Network) service, is an L-band (1.6GHz) service like MSV’s planned SkyTerra. Inmarsat’s spacecraft antenna, however, is not quite large enough to connect to pocket size devices. Instead it uses portable, laptop-size terminals to provide high-speed data (up to 492 kbps) with voice connectivity anywhere in the world.

The U.S. Air Force is flying an RQ-4 Global Hawk out of Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, and is providing the images over the unclassified Internet.

The Global Hawk has a 220 lbs Integrated Sensor Suite based on an CCD/IR camera that produces still images in two formats – a wide area search and a ‘spot’ collection mode, focusing the entire sensor on a 2×2 km area. On average a Global Hawk can capture up to 1,900 images per day.

There are least 3 tiers of UAVs:

The most widely used CCD for aircraft is the Fairchild CCD 595 with 9216 x 9216 or 85 Megapixels, designed to replace 4.5 inch film. The Fairchild chip is internally divided into eight sections, each with independent readout. The CDL (Common Data Link) connects UAVs to TacSat and the ground.

While larger UAVs like the Predator or Reaper can use satellite links, most smaller UAVs cannot, limiting their range to 50 miles or so, line of sight, although repeaters are extending the range and providing coverage behind hills. Evergreen is flying a ScanEagle over Haiti. It was developed by Insitu.

Here’s an introduction to free Google tools for nonprofits (PPT).

Here are the daily UAV flights above Haiti.

The Automatic Identification System tracks ships live, world-wide, using a combination of GPS and marine VHF radio. and VesselTracker provide live tracking services. Unfortunately Haiti does not appear to have an active AIS beacon.

Orbicomm’s commercial satellite network carries an AIS Data Service receiver, which enables it to track ships over the ocean. But last November, Orbcomm said four of the six AIS-equipped satellites, launched in June 2008, have now failed, with the other two likely to fail in the near future. The company has filed a $50 million claim with its insurers covering the loss of all six satellites. Orbcomm’s 18-satellite second-generation constellation won’t have its first group of six satellites ready for launch until late 2010. The AIS-Space data collected by exactEarth’s satellites are transmitted to a series of earth stations, and then routed by ground trunk links to exactEarth’s Data Processing Center located in Canada.

Dailywireless has more information on the Haiti disaster at Mapping the Haitian Disaster, Haiti: Satellites Up, Fiber Down, and my PdxHaiti technical volunteer web site.

Related DailyWireless Space and Satellite News includes; Terrestar Successfully Launched, AT&T/TerreStar Ready Satphone Service, Godzilla SatPhones WiMAXed , WiMAX and/or Satellite, HughesNet’s Spaceway 3 Now Available, Hughes Launches Switchboard in the Sky, Hurricane Katrina, Oregon’s $500 Million Statewide Wireless Network, Mountain Rescue UAVs, E911 & Triangulation, Katrina Telecomunications Report, Hyperspectral Search, Report on Kim Search, Cellular Triangulation, Wireless River Monitoring, McSignage, Emergency Com Gets WiFi/Sat Link, Taiwan Earthquake Knocks Out Cables, HughesNet & Broadband Corporation, Spot Beam Sats Multiply, Clearwire & SatTV Do a Deal, TerreStar: I-HSPA for Satphones, Satphones: Merger Ahead?, Inmarsat + SkyTerra = Spectrum Sharing, Mobile Satellite on the Move, TerreStar Gets a Slot, Satellite Repeaters – Grounded In Reality?, MSS: AWS Alternative?, Google Dumping Tele Atlas Maps?, Google Earth Gets “Live” Overlay, Open Source: Moving Up, Ocean Observatory Gets Funded, Mt. Wilson Threatened by Fire, HyperLocal: There’s an App for That.

Posted by Sam Churchill on Thursday, January 14th, 2010 at 8:56 am .

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