Teufelsberg, Berlin, Germany

From Triple Canopy:

In 2003, the RAND Corporation published a report entitled “Mastering the Ultimate High Ground: Next Steps in the Military Uses of Space.” “High ground” is a military expression referring to a position on elevated terrain from which soldiers can better survey the battlefield and more easily defeat an advancing enemy. Space provides the ultimate overlook, and its mastery provides the supreme tactical advantage. This kind of “global situational awareness” has been deemed crucial to national security; the US intelligence agencies strive to see everywhere (in order to detect intercontinental ballistic missiles, avoid satellite collisions, and surveil the planet’s surface) and, via the interception of space-based communication links, hear everything.

Every satellite in orbit requires a tremendous amount of infrastructure on the ground. The sheer size of this network is staggering, difficult to quantify or visualize, but there exist approximate inventories of the property holdings of the Pentagon (one of the largest landowners in the world). In his 2004 book, The Sorrows of Empire, Chalmers Johnson noted that, at the time, the Department of Defense deployed nearly 255,000 military personnel at 725 bases in thirty-eight countries. US military-communication sites, which range from unmanned installations to fully staffed facilities, are generally not included in lists of bases. They are thought to number more than six thousand worldwide.

For the past four years, I have tracked these terrestrial manifestations of America’s effort to dominate space: its global network of remote bases, orbiting satellites, and foreign military installations, some of which do not officially exist. One component of this research is a database of photographs, videos, field recordings, and maps, some created, some found, and some collected from sympathetic sources and fellow researchers.

The Ultimate High Ground includes the atmosphere surrounding us, which is a critical conduit between far-flung “ground stations,” or “Earth stations,” and is charged with their coded transmissions. These sites, whether radar-detection posts, satellite-tracking bases, telecommunications-intercept centers, space ports, unmanned transmitter arrays, or overcrowded field offices, are fragments of America. They are fixed technological nodes in a fluid cartography characterized by orbiting constellations and constantly redefined by shifting geopolitical strategies. The objective, however, remains the same: the infinite extension of perception. The liminal terrain formed by ground stations points to what dwarfs them, the unfathomable stores of encrypted data that stream in and out of their internal network.

RAF Menwith Hill, North Yorkshire, England

“The Ultimate High Ground”, Steve Rowell, Triple Canopy