These exclusive satellite images show the Saudi sci-fi megacity is on the right track

These exclusive satellite images show the Saudi sci-fi megacity is on the right track

These exclusive satellite images show the Saudi sci-fi megacity is on the right track

One of the main business uses of satellite imagery is to help companies understand how their rivals or entire countries are faring in the global market – to see, for example, “how many cranes are currently working on the Manhattan skyline, or [how many] the tankers are in port,” says Jamon Van Den Hoek, professor of geography and director of the Conflict Ecology Lab at Oregon State University.

“If there are no Maxar images acquired over an area that is experiencing rapid economic investment, something fishy is going on,” says Van Den Hoek. “The easiest solution is probably for a financial interest to buy these images at the highest level, where they retain exclusive rights to them.”

Not everyone agrees. “I haven’t heard of any commercial enterprise trying to restrict things,” says Doug Specht, professor of geography at the University of Westminster in London. “My immediate reaction is that no one cared about high resolution because it’s in the middle of a desert and high resolution imagery is incredibly expensive to own and distribute.”

Stephen Wood, senior manager of Maxar’s press office, told MIT Technology Review, “We have no recent high-resolution imagery that has been collected from these areas.” He wrote that the company primarily focuses on areas of interest to its customers, but “as we have imaging time available, we will collect other areas as part of our overall mission to continuously update the whole world with high-resolution images. We tend to focus on areas that show the most change first (eg cities, etc.), but we’ll populate those other areas of the globe as well.

When asked if customers could get exclusive access to Maxar’s images, Wood said, “The vast majority of everything we collect is placed in our public image archive, which is the cornerstone of our imaging activity. These images are available for purchase and we ultimately serve our clients through a range of different contract types.

An area of ​​The Line captured by public and commercial satellites, and seen on Google Maps, does not include the most recent construction.


High resolution Planet images of parts of The Line appear to be available for licensing, although none have been released publicly on Google Maps as of yet.

A Google spokesperson told MIT Technology Review, “We are constantly updating satellite imagery as it becomes available from our image providers. Since our providers often focus on the most populated cities and locations, these regions tend to get updated images more frequently. Google Maps satellite images cover only about a fifth of the Earth’s surface, but 98% of its population.

While the entire surface of the planet is photographed several times a day in low resolution, the sharpest images from the latest commercial satellites can still cost up to $3,000, according to a price list at Apollo Imaging, an aggregator of satellite images. These are far from complete and some footage is not publicly available for national security reasons, a process known as shutter control. Many Chinese imagery companies, for example, will not sell any satellite imagery of China, North Korea, Taiwan or Tibet.


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