Baghdad: The view from space
Military planners, Web users can see satellite images of Iraq
(CNN) -- Iraq's agreement to open sites to U.N. weapons inspectors averted a U.S.-led military attack. Now many are asking: How will the inspectors know if the Iraqis are truly complying with the agreement?
Analysts say they will know because the United States has the capability to see what is happening on the ground from space.
The military's Space Command does not operate its own satellites, but it uses and shares satellite information, such as high-resolution views of downtown Baghdad.
Technology similar to what was used during the Cold War to keep track of the Soviet Union's activities can allow the inspectors to see movement of suspicious material anywhere in Iraq.
"Those systems are better now because we're learning how to use them better and we are improving the capabilities of the systems we have in space," said Gen. Howell Estes,
commander-in-chief of the U.S. Space Command.
In addition, the United States recently sent high-tech monitoring equipment to the Persian Gulf, including a plane with radar sensitive enough to pick up the movement of an object as small as a jeep.
Now that a deal has been reached, analysts say the high-tech equipment sent in preparation for a military attack can be converted to another use -- monitoring Iraq's compliance.
U.S. company marketing images on Web
But inspectors and military planners aren't the only ones who can get a satellite glimpse of downtown Baghdad -- thanks to links forged by an American entrepreneur and the Russian Space Agency.
Pictures of the Iraqi capital taken just after the Gulf War are being marketed on the Web by Aerial Images Inc., of Raleigh, North Carolina.
The satellite aboard this Russian rocket will take pictures of world population centers
Company president John Hoffman negotiated a deal with Sovinformsputnik, a branch of the Russian Space Agency, to buy some of Moscow's old secrets and put them on the Internet.
"I have to tell you, they were very eager to do this," Hoffman said.
Russia allowed Hoffman to move about 15 percent of its formerly classified military satellite archive to Raleigh, where it is housed inside a former bank vault.
Last week, a Russian-built satellite was launched to take new pictures of the United States and other world population centers. After the satellite returns to Earth next month, technicians will process the images in the same rooms that once served the Soviet military satellite network.
"The images are received in tape form and negatives are made from these films. We can then print double positives or we can create digital files, since we have very good scanners which helps us to make very good digital copies," said Mikhail Fomchenko, Sovinformsputnik director. "Ninety percent of our orders are for the digital version."
Reflections, folding chairs visible
Images from the Russian archive reveal objects as small as six feet across.
A satellite picture of Las Vegas, for example, shows the pyramid-shaped Luxor Casino so clearly that reflections of adjacent buildings can be seen on the Luxor's black glass walls.
Another image, of Rome's St. Peter's Square, shows a shaded area in front of the Basilica that is a group of folding chairs.
Aerial Images -- whose clients include government agencies, real estate developers, cell phone companies and map makers
-- now offers customers images of about 1 million square kilometers of the Earth's surface on CD-ROM and by Internet file transfer.
Beginning in June, Web surfers will be able to browse the company's product for free and buy images for as little as $7.95.
Meanwhile, what was once a spy's-eye view of Baghdad can be accessed now at www.TerraServer.com.
National Correspondent John Holliman and Technology Correspondent David George contributed to this report.