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Satellites could track planes, says astronaut

A fleet of tiny satellites released from the International Space Station could be a tool to help solve future aviation mysteries like the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, said retired astronaut Chris Hadfield, who commanded the space station for five months last year.

Speaking to the media after giving a talk at the opening session of the TED2014 conference Monday, Hadfield said that the shoebox-sized satellites, once fully deployed, will cover the entire planet with frequently refreshed images at a resolution down to 4 meters and could have helped in a mystery such as the question of what happened to the Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777.

Planet Labs, a San Francisco-based company, arranged for the first group of the satellites to be released from the space station last month. Hadfield said those satellites are in initial testing.

Asked by CNN to comment, Planet Labs provided a statement by its co-founder and CEO, William Marshall, a former NASA scientist, who is due to speak later this week at TED: “Planet Labs just last month deployed a fleet of 28 satellites, Flock 1, from the International Space Station. This is the largest Earth imaging constellation in history. We are turning on each of the satellites and are now putting them into position. With this constellation, we will measure the planet on a more regular basis to enable various applications. One of those applications is disaster response, including natural and man-made disasters. Other applications range from monitoring deforestation to helping to improve agricultural yields to monitoring urban growth.” Another 100 such satellites are in the works, according to theFinancial Times.

Hadfield said “tracking one thin aluminum tube” like the Boeing 777, in a place that is not heavily covered by radar is very hard.

“Obviously something happened fast and deliberate, exactly what process, whether it was the crew themselves or someone forcing themselves in, we don’t know,” Hadfield said. He said he suspects that if the aircraft did crash, wreckage will eventually be found.

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