DigitalGlobe Analysis Center Spots China’s Aircraft Carrier, Italian Liner Wreck


China’s first aircraft carrier was spotted by a DigitalGlobe Analysis Center analyst as it steamed the Yellow Sea under scattered-to-broken clouds. Photo Credit: DigitalGlobe


The growing value of DigitalGlobe’s formal Analysis Center is highlighted by commercial satellite imagery of both China’s first aircraft carrier and the wreck of the cruise ship Costa Concordia on the Tuscan coast of Italy.

The Analysis Center at Digital Globe’s Colorado headquarters uses open source information combined with a team of image analysts. They have the ability to task the company’s three spacecraft, the 10 year old Quickbird and newer Worldview 1 and 2 spacecraft to image key locations and events around the world.  This imaging can be to support diverse scientific studies, firefighting, and many other uses such as the coverage of breaking news.


It was an Analysis Center analyst that on Dec. 8 was searching the Yellow Sea, dotted by extensive scattered cloud, who found the Chinese aircraft carrier Varyag during its second sea trial, approximately 100 kilometers south-southeast of the port of Dalian, China. The image was acquired by the Quickbird satellite at about 280 mi. altitude.

Enlarged image of the Costa Concordia, shows the size of the ship which ran aground with 3,000 passengers in the Tuscan waters off of Giglio, Italy on Friday, January 13. Photo Credit: DigitalGlobe

The Varyag is the former incomplete USSR aircraft carrier that China purchased from Russia as the Soviet Union collapsed and its activities after leaving port were of interest to many users. DigitalGlobe has many classified users in the intelligence community, but this first overhead imagery of the carrier at sea arose from the initiative of an analyst in the Center using open source information about when it left port.

In addition to military value the image conveys China’s intention of participating on the world stage as a military power.

Imaging the Costa Concordia was easier because it was a massive stationary target at precise coordinates along the Italian coast. DigitalGlobe was able to image the liner through breaks in the clouds three days after she struck rocks and rolled onto her side.

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