Defense Tech makes a whole lot of noise about how satellites are being -- and will be -- used for war. But the orbiters can be employed for peaceful purposes, as well. Take, for example, this report from the New Scientist:
Satellites are boosting humanitarian efforts in the conflict-torn Darfur region of Sudan. The European Space Agency (ESA) released observations representing the largest-scale use of satellites by Respond - a new consortium of European aid agencies - on Tuesday.Internal conflict with Arab militia called the Janjaweed - accused of attacking African tribes in Darfur - has forced an estimated 1.5 million people to flee their homes and take refuge in camps scattered throughout a region the size of France.Coordinating aid efforts between the camps can be extremely difficult, particularly during the rainy season, which began in August. Normally dry riverbeds - called wadis - can overflow and flood roads during the rains, crippling communication in remote areas, says Kader Fellah, who helps support the Respond project."Some agencies reported it could take as long as 10 days to travel 120 kilometres by road. What aid workers needed was up-to-date road network information combined with analysis of wadi flooding," he says.The Respond project provides that crucial information by combining data from nine separate spacecraft, including ESA's Envisat, the largest Earth-observation spacecraft ever built. It pools both radar and optical data to produce maps that range in resolution from a scale of 1:200,000 for route planning to 1:2000 - which can image individual tents at camps and clinics. And it takes just 12 hours to produce the maps, providing the data over the internet."Before we provided this mapping, the [German Red Cross] were crossing the same wadi two or three times in their efforts to find a route between population centres, causing severe delays to aid shipments," says Alex Irving, a geographical analyst supporting Respond.