A Political History of U.S. Commercial Remote Sensing, 1984-2007: Conflict, Collaboration, and the Role of Knowledge in the High-Tech World of Earth Observation Satellites

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Virginia Tech

The political history of U.S. commercial remote sensing began in 1984 when the U.S. government first attempted to commercialize its civil earth observation satellite system " Landsat. Since then, the high technology of earth imaging satellite systems has generated intense debates and policy conflicts, primarily centered on U.S. government concerns over the national security and foreign policy implications of high-resolution commercial satellite systems. Conversely, proponents of commercial observation satellites have urged U.S. policymakers to recognize the scientific and socio-economic utility of commercial remote sensing and thus craft and implement regulatory regimes that allow for a greater degree of information openness and transparency in using earth observation satellite imagery. This dissertation traces and analyzes that tumultuous political history and examines the policy issues and social construction of commercial remote sensing to determine the role of knowledge in the effective crafting and execution of commercial remote sensing laws and policies.

Although individual and organizational perspectives, interests, missions, and cultures play a significant role in the social construction of commercial observation satellite systems and programs, the problem of insufficient knowledge of the myriad dimensions and complex nature of commercial remote sensing is a little studied but important component of this social construction process. Knowledge gaps concerning commercial remote sensing extend to various dimensions of the subject matter, such as the global, economic, technical, and legal/policy aspects.

Numerous examples of knowledge voids are examined to suggest a connection between deficient knowledge and divergent policy perceptions as they relate to commercial remote sensing. Relevant knowledge voids are then structurally categorized to demonstrate the vastness and complexity of commercial remote sensing policy issues and to offer recommendations on how to fill such knowledge gaps to effect increased collaboration between the US government and the U.S. commercial remote sensing industry. Finally, the dissertation offers suggestions for future STS studies on policy issues, particularly those that focus on the global dimensions of commercial remote sensing or on applying the knowledge gap concept advanced by this dissertation to other areas of science and technology policymaking.

Landsat, ACCRES, knowledge voids, PDD-23, CRSSP, C2RS2, GSD, Orbview, QuickBird, NOAA, GeoEye, Space Imaging, Ikonos, Satellite, DigitalGlobe, Orbimage, Remote Sensing, USGS, Policy Act, Commercialization Act, imagery