The aftermath of this week’s Beirut chemical explosion has been covered in triplicate by U.S. satellite imaging systems — with other nations’ satellites, drones and on-the-scene videos adding perspective.
All that imagery helped outside observers quickly verify that the killing blast was caused not by a terrorist bombing, but by the blow-up of a years-old stockpile of ammonium nitrate. The chemical is typically used as fertilizer but can be turned into dangerous explosives.
The Aug. 4 explosion killed at least 100 people, injured thousands more, sent out a shock wave that damaged buildings up to 6 miles away, and generated a seismic shock that was felt as far away as Cyprus.
Among the spacecraft in position to document the aftermath was BlackSky’s Global-4 satellite, which was built in Seattle for BlackSky and launched last August. BlackSky is a subsidiary of Seattle-based Spaceflight Industries, and has offices in Seattle as well as Virginia.
BlackSky is due to have two more Global satellites launched as soon as this week, as rideshare payloads on a SpaceX Falcon 9 under an arrangement with Seattle’s Spaceflight Inc. They’re among the first satellites built for BlackSky by Tukwila, Wash.-based LeoStella, a joint venture between Spaceflight Industries and Europe’s Thales Alenia Space. The deployment timetable calls for 16 BlackSky satellites to be on duty in low Earth orbit by early next year.
Two of BlackSky’s competitors, Planet and Maxar Technologies, also shared before-and-after views of the Beirut blast scene today:
Before and after SkySat imagery shows the impact of yesterday’s explosion in Beirut.
Imagery captured on May 31, 2020 and today, August 5, 2020. pic.twitter.com/8zCLDOZn4w
— Planet (@planetlabs) August 5, 2020
Devastating image – is that a capsized yacht or similar on the second image? pic.twitter.com/DIoDTAEir8
— Danny (@_danjuna) August 5, 2020
Before and after images from the #explosion that happened in #Beirut, #Lebanon on August 4, 2020. Before image from June 2020 and after image from today, August 5, 2020. More imagery showing the devastation will follow. pic.twitter.com/dfj4ItyTXL
— Maxar Technologies (@Maxar) August 5, 2020
BlackSky, Maxar Technologies and Planet have all won study contracts from the National Reconnaissance Office, under a program aimed at assessing the companies’ ability to provide imagery for the defense and intelligence communities.
NRO says it will start a new round of commercial imagery procurements in late 2020, with an eye toward satisfying government requirements into the 2023 time frame. So the efforts to capture over Beirut isn’t merely meant to satisfy curiosity; they serve to demonstrate what the companies can do for national defense.
In addition to the satellite pictures from those three U.S. companies, there’s a surfeit of sobering imagery from other satellites and drones. Here’s a sampling:
Just hours after the explosion, we at @EUSPACEIMAGING captured the devastating destruction in #Beirut this morning in 50 cm resolution with WorldView-2. View and download the images here https://t.co/ptMqbttkp4 pic.twitter.com/Twc3h9E8Cf
— European Space Imaging (@EUSPACEIMAGING) August 5, 2020
Последствия взрыва в порту Бейрута 4 августа 2020 года. Фотография с российского спутника дистанционного зондирования Земли «Канопус-В» pic.twitter.com/JW5A6J4fy0
— РОСКОСМОС (@roscosmos) August 5, 2020
— ImageSat Intl. (@ImageSatIntl) August 5, 2020
CNN drone footage shows some of the devastation caused by the massive explosion in Beirut. The blast rocked the Lebanese capital on Tuesday evening, leaving at least 100 dead and thousands injured. pic.twitter.com/WEmFCQ7BSi
— CNN (@CNN) August 5, 2020
This aerial footage shows the full scale of the destruction caused by a massive explosion in Beirut.
— SkyNews (@SkyNews) August 5, 2020