Case Study: Misleading Satellite Data Contract

Topics: Satellite imagery, Remote sensing, Aerial photography Pages: 9 (2786 words) Published: May 19, 2012
University of Massachusetts - Amherst

ScholarWorks@UMass Amherst
Ethics in Science and Engineering National Clearinghouse 6-17-2008 Science, Technology and Society Initiative

Case study: Misleading satellite data contract
Steven Cox
Queens University - Charlotte

Shawana Johnson
Global Marketing Insights

Recommended Citation
Cox, Steven and Johnson, Shawana, "Case study: Misleading satellite data contract" (2008). Ethics in Science and Engineering National Clearinghouse. Paper 280.

This Case Study is brought to you for free and open access by the Science, Technology and Society Initiative at ScholarWorks@UMass Amherst. It has been accepted for inclusion in Ethics in Science and Engineering National Clearinghouse by an authorized administrator of ScholarWorks@UMass Amherst. For more information, please contact

GISProfessional Ethics Project

Case study: Misleading satellite data contract
Version 1.0 • June 17, 2008
Authors: Steven Cox (McColl School of Business, Queens University of Charlotte), Shawana Johnson (Global Marketing Insights)

Case (for presentation to students)
Jim Willis was the Vice President of Marketing and Sales for International Satellite Images (ISI). ISI had been building a satellite to image the world at a resolution of 1-meter. At that resolution, a trained photo interpreter could identify virtually any military and civilian vehicle as well as numerous other military and non-military objects. The ISI team had been preparing a proposal for a Japanese government contractor. The contract called for a commitment of a minimum imagery purchase of $10 million per year for five years. In a recent executive staff meeting it became clear that the ISI satellite camera subcontractor was having trouble with the development of a thermal stabilizer for the instrument. It appeared that the development delay would be at least one year and possibly 18 months. When Jim approached Fred Ballard, the President of ISI, for advice on what launch date to put into the proposal, Fred told Jim to use the published date since that was still the official launch date. When Jim protested that the use of an incorrect date was clearly unethical, Fred said, “Look Jim, no satellite has ever been launched on time. Everyone, including our competitors, publish very aggressive launch dates. Customers understand the tentative nature of launch schedules. In fact, it is so common that customers factor into their plans the likelihood that spacecraft will not be launched on time. If we provided realistic dates, our launch dates would be so much later than those published by our competitors that we would never be able to sell any advanced contracts. So don’t worry about it, just use the published date and we will revise it in a few months.” Fred’s words were not very comforting to Jim. It was true that satellite launch dates were seldom met, but putting a launch date into a proposal that ISI knew was no longer possible seemed underhanded. He wondered about the ethics of such a practice and the effect on his own reputation. The Industry Companies from four nations, the United States, France, Russia, and Israel controlled the satellite imaging industry. The US companies had a clear advantage in technology and imagery clarity. In the US, three companies dominated; Lockart, Global Sciences, and ISI. Each of these companies had received a license from the US government to build and launch a satellite able to identify objects as small as one square meter. However, none had yet been able to successfully 7/1/2008 1

launch a commercial satellite with such a fine resolution. Currently, all of the companies had announced a launch date within six months of the ISI published launch date. Further, each company had to revise its launch date at least once, and in the case of Global Sciences, twice....
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