1988 Soviet Satellite Photo

The cover of  The Espionage Game, a novel about Groom Lake that we publish (click Home to get to our home page), was created in part from an actual 1988 Soviet satellite photograph, purchased from them in early 1990 by the author. This only proves that not only were the Russians fully aware of Groom Lake, but also that they had no need to hide that knowledge from the American government.  So much for the myth of hiding the base from them!

Below is a 1988 Soviet satellite photograph of the top-secret US Air Force testing facility at Groom Lake, NV. It is also known as Area 51. Groom Lake is a dry lakebed most of the year, and as such, affords an excellent natural airport. Located about 95 miles northwest of Las Vegas, NV, Groom Lake is in the middle of the Nellis AFB Bombing and Gunnery Range, making Groom Lake a very secluded location.

Known by such codenames as Dreamland, the Box, and the Ranch, the facilities at Groom Lake were originally opened by "Kelly" Johnson in 1955 as a place to test the U-2. Since that time, virtually every top-secret American aircraft was tested at the Groom Lake facility. Although an open secret for over thirty years, even today the US government still refuses to acknowledge the existence of the base. However, there can be no question that the Soviets not only knew of the existence of the facilities in 1988, but also clearly had known for years. The image was taken early in the morning when the length of the shadows could be used to estimate the heights of various buildings and when the winds were still calm, eliminating the effects of dust. In addition, the desert is still cool at this time and so there would be no distorting convection currents. Such timing was not accidental. The Russians timed this exposure carefully.

The image was taken by a Soviet Cosmos satellite on July 17, 1988 at 8:34 AM PDT. This image is a survey-mode photographic color transparency measuring 30 cm by 30 cm (approximately 12 inches by 12 inches). Taken at an altitude of 275.7 kilometers (171.3 miles), the transparency covers a land area of approximately 100 kilometers by 100 kilometers. Figure 1 is a small section of this image and shows Groom Lake about as it appears on the original transparency. Even a casual examination of the transparency would reveal the existence of the runway running across the lakebed.

The photographic film used to take this image is very fine grained. The actual transparency delivered by Soyuzkarta is a copy of the original, making it a second generation. This, in turn, was sent to a photographic lab with a super-sized enlarger and a number of photographic enlargements were made of the area around Groom Lake. These were printed onto Cibachrome paper. Parts of the resulting enlargements are shown in figures 2, 3 and 4. It wasn’t until the enlargement shown in figure 4 that the actual grain of the transparency could be seen. These Cibachrome prints were then digitally scanned at  several DPI densities. Those used in this web page were scanned at 100 DPI so as to match the resolution of your computer monitor. Much more detail can be seen in the 600 DPI images.

The resolution of the original image is claimed by Soyuzkarta to be between five and seven meters. The actual resolution is closer to two to three meters when the Cibachrome prints are examined. Thus the digital images shown in figures 1 through 4 are not really representative of the Cibachrome prints. Two compromises had to be made to make it possible to download images over the Internet to you. First, they were scanned at 100 DPI a very low resolution, and second, they were heavily compressed with JPEG, which further decreases the quality of the fine detail. While this may not be apparent in the figures themselves, you can click on each and download an enlargement and see just how fuzzy they are. Most of the fuzziness is due to the JPEG compression.

Figure 5 is representative of the "image enhancement" done just fifteen years ago. Back then, computers were slow, disks were small and memories were limited to 128 kilobytes. Since the goal of such enhancements was to impress some world leader or another, the images were typically scanned digitally and then posterized (that is, converted to 256 colors and the colors manipulated to make them look nice) as this one was. Then labeling was added so that the leader had no problem in understanding what they were supposed to see. English translations were added for those of you who don’t read Russian.

As such, this sort of enhancement is crude by today’s standards. An example of today’s standards can be seen on the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) website http://www.fas.org/. Their IKONOS image was taken on April 2, 2000. It is well under one-meter resolution although claimed to be only one meter by Space Imaging. In reality, it is closer to .25 meters. Although it is difficult to see any really fine detail on the JPEG images you can download, look carefully at the shot of the shipping/receiving building. You can see the lines in the parking lot. Those cannot be much wider than 15 cm (6 inches).

 Click on images to see larger versions

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3

Figure 4

Figure 5

Satellite photograph provided by ContiTrade Services Corporation, New York and Soyuzkarta, Moscow, Reproduction is unauthorized except by written permission. Used with permission.

Satellite photograph image enhancements Copyright 1991, 1992, and 1999 by PRW. All rights Reserved

Copyright 2011 Poitin Inc. All rights reserved.