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Newly Launched Satellite Disappears
Associated Press, April 27, 1999

A civilian satellite that can take the kind of detailed photos that previously only spy satellites could produce disappeared shortly after it was launched Tuesday. An Athena 2 rocket carrying the Ikonos 1 satellite roared off a Vandenberg Air Force Base launch pad at 11:22 a.m. PT (2:22 p.m. ET), bound for an orbit 400 miles high. Communications with the spacecraft ended about eight minutes after liftoff, as planned, but it failed to re-establish contact as expected later in the flight. Officials could not say whether it remained in orbit. Space Imaging, the Denver company that planned to operate the satellite, has already built a spare Ikonos. "Although our business plan will be delayed, we are confident that with the launch of Ikonos 2 we will achieve our goals," John Copple, Space Imaging's chief executive officer, said in a news release. Ikonos 1, named after the Greek word for "image," has a camera capable of resolving objects one meter square - about 3 feet by 3 feet. That means the satellite would be able to distinguish between a car and truck, according to Space Imaging.

Until now, only military satellites have been able to photograph Earth in such detail. Some experts said they worried that images from Ikonos 1 could be used by terrorists or enemy governments to plan attacks or spot mobilizing troops. The federal government approved the satellite in 1994. Space Imaging, a privately held company, said it expected its clients to use the images for urban planning, environmental monitoring, mapping, assessing the scope of natural disasters, oil and gas exploration, monitoring farmland and planning communication networks. John Pike, an authority on space reconnaissance with the private Federation of American Scientists in Washington, D.C., pointed out that the government will not allow images of some places to be sold. "The dilemma that you've got, though, is how do you make sure that Serbia doesn't know where American troops are while making sure that American news media is able to cover the war," Pike said. "And we're obviously going to have a hard time drawing that line." The satellite was built by Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems. Raytheon built the communications, image processing and other elements of the system. Eastman Kodak built the digital camera system.