Commercial Satellite Imagery Analysis for Countering Nuclear Proliferation

by David Albright, Sarah Burkhard, and Allison Lach

June 8, 2018

An article in the Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences


High-resolution commercial satellite imagery from a growing number of private satellite companies allows nongovernmental analysts to better understand secret or opaque nuclear programs of countries in unstable or tense regions, called proliferant states. They include North Korea, Iran, India, Pakistan, and Israel. By using imagery to make these countries’ aims and capabilities more transparent, nongovernmental groups like the Institute for Science and International Security have affected the policies of governments and the course of public debate. Satellite imagery work has also strengthened the efforts of the International Atomic Energy Agency, thereby helping this key international agency build its case to mount inspections of suspect sites and activities. This work has improved assessments of the nuclear capabilities of proliferant states. Several case studies provide insight into the use of commercial satellite imagery as a key tool to educate policy makers and affect policy.

Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences

Vol. 46:99-121 (Volume publication date May 2018) First published as a Review in Advance on March 12, 2018

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