CORONA is the codename for the United States’ first photographic spy satellite mission, in operation from 1960-1972. During that time, CORONA satellites took high-resolution images of most of the earth’s surface, with particular emphasis on Soviet bloc countries and other political hotspots in order to monitor military sites and produce maps for the Department of Defense. The more than 800,000 images collected by the CORONA missions remained classified until 1995 when an executive order by President Bill Clinton made them publicly available through the US Geological Survey. Because CORONA images preserve a high-resolution picture of the world as it existed in the 1960s, they constitute a unique resource for researchers and scientists studying environmental change, agriculture, geomorphology, archaeology and other fields.
In regions like the Middle East, CORONA imagery is particularly important for archaeology because urban development, agricultural intensification, and reservoir construction over the past several decades have obscured or destroyed countless archaeological sites and other ancient features such as roads and canals. These sites are often clearly visible on CORONA imagery, enabling researchers to map sites that have been lost and to discover many that have never before been documented. However, the unique imaging geometry of the CORONA satellite cameras, which produced long, narrow film strips, makes correcting spatial distortions in the images very challenging and has therefore limited their use by researchers.
Thanks to grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Council of Learned Societies, CAST has developed methods for efficient orthorectification of CORONA imagery and now provides free public access to our imagery database for non-commercial use. Images can be viewed online and full resolution images can be downloaded in NITF format.
Associated Grants and Awards
The CORONA Atlas Project: Correction and Distribution of Declassified Satellite Imagery, National Endowment for the Humanities (2013)
Corona Archaeological Atlas of the Middle East, National Endowment for the Humanities (2008)
Casana J., Cothren J. (2013) The CORONA Atlas Project: Orthorectification of CORONA Satellite Imagery and Regional-Scale Archaeological Exploration in the Near East. In: Mapping Archaeological Landscapes from Space. SpringerBriefs in Archaeology, vol 5. Springer, New York, NY
J. Casana et al. 2012 'Swords into Ploughshares: Archaeological Applications of CORONA Satellite Imagery in the Near East', Internet Archaeology 32. https://doi.org/10.11141/ia.32.2
News & Media
Spy Satellite Images Unveil Lost Cities, SoCalGIS.org, 05/07/14
Cold War Spy-Satellite Images Unveil Lost Cities, National Geographic, 04/25/14
3-D Atlas Reveals Undiscovered Sites, Research Frontiers, 04/15/09
Funding provided by:
National Endowment for the Humanities
Digital Preservation, GIS, GNSS and Mapping, Spatial Archaeometry, Image Analysis