Here’s what we know so far…
President Trump tweeted a photo of a charred launchpad at the Imam Khomeini Space Center in Iran, which had just experienced its third launch failure of the year.
“When we saw this photo we were kind of blown away,” says David Schmerler, a researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies and the first to share Planet’s photo of the Iranian launch accident with NPR. “A president tweeting out national intelligence assets is a whole new level.”
For many outside experts, the only thing more intriguing than the president sharing sensitive military intelligence was the mystery of the technology that created the image. The photo’s extremely high resolution suggested it was taken by a drone or high-altitude plane, which would mean that Trump had tweeted proof that the US was violating Iranian air space.
“The US DOD has released reconnaissance satellite imagery on a number of occasions, but in all cases those were deliberately degraded images,” says Marco Langbroek, an archaeologist who runs an amateur spy-satellite tracking station in the Netherlands and who helped determine that USA 224 took the photo. “This is the first time since the 1984 leak that an image with this level of detail was released.”