"The only relevance I can see is that you're putting espionage ability in private hands," says TIME science writer Jeff Kluger. "It just means that corporations and private individuals are now capable of doing what previously only governments and militaries were capable of doing." Kluger said the technology would probably not be of much use to farmers, since weather patterns are already available from current satellites and helicopter imaging is cheaper for other applications. "The only reason to take pictures from this altitude," he says, "is to do it surreptitiously."
Space, capitalism's newest frontier, has been opened to virtually anyone seeking a Martian's-eye view of our planet. On Tuesday, Space Imaging Inc., a Colorado-based satellite maker, unveiled the world's first private-use space camera. For as little as $1,000, governments, corporations and individuals can purchase images of virtually anyplace in the world. Offering precision comparable to that of spy satellites — objects as small as three feet wide can be seen — Space Imaging is touting potential benefits in such areas as agriculture and urban planning. However, with the nascent private satellite industry being virtually unregulated — the Clinton administration approved production of such cameras in 1994 — the development opens a Pandora's box of issues over privacy and industrial espionage.