On Bayshore Boulevard, with a view overlooking the bay and downtown Tampa, geospatial analysts pour over satellite images of the world — comparing topography and infrastructure of ethnic groups in a specific region.
They track events like environmental damage from oil refineries in Nigeria, developments in the war in Ukraine and earthquakes in Turkey and Syria.
Satellite company Maxar has 20 offices globally and has grown as a leading source of information across the world during the pandemic and throughout the war in Ukraine. Maxar’s Tampa location, conveniently near U.S. Central Command’s headquarters, specializes in analyzing data and imagery to put together comprehensive reports for both U.S. and foreign governments and corporations to inform their decisions.
“Primarily, it’s for CentCom,” said Alex Dunmire, Maxar deputy general manager in Tampa. “We help them conduct geospatial analysis on whatever their mission set is, so it could be supporting military missions or humanitarian type actions.”
Central Command oversees military operations for the Department of Defense primarily in the Middle East, covering Egypt to Kazakhstan, and is headquartered on MacDill Air Force Base.
Satellites are constantly orbiting Earth and taking on-the-ground photos of about 3 million square kilometers per day, Dunmire said. That’s nearly the size of the seventh-largest country in the world: India. Clients can buy satellite images from their archives or hire Maxar to target a specific location and track movement around that area.
For example, Maxar can take a photo of Tampa’s Gasparilla parade from space and count the number of boats in the water using artificial intelligence. They can also track attendance at Tropicana Field by counting the cars parked in the lot during a game.
Maxar has more than 4,000 employees globally, 55 of which are in Tampa, and has ranked among the Tampa Bay Times Top Workplaces seven times. The company was founded in 2017 and is headquartered in Westminster, Colo.
Passing by a poster showing an aerial view downtown Tampa in their office, Dunmire stopped to point out that the photo likely was taken either on a Thursday or a Saturday because a cruise ship was docked at the port.
Small details like that can help tell a story out of satellite imagery, he said.
Before the war in Ukraine, Maxar helped track Russia’s troops on the Ukrainian border ahead of the invasion. Now, geospatial analyst Alex Prewitt helps create maps overlaying roads, topography and where government and residential buildings are that could help predict which routes the Russian military could take.
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These comprehensive reports monitor the “human landscape” of a region whether that be its borders, infrastructure, ethnicities, health data or more.
“It’s just a complete snapshot of everything in the country that we can gather,” Prewitt said.
For research analyst Michelle Assaad, 32, she said it can be difficult to write reports on tough subjects such as migration, smuggling and other humanitarian issues. Assad said she began tracking migrant routes in Syria and Turkey before the 7.8- and 7.5-magnitude earthquakes hit in early February. It’s grown to be a passion project for her.
“Looking at the situation, you can see how already bad it was,” Assaad said. “Right now, it’s an emotional investment to see just how bad went to worse. I definitely put my heart into a lot of these reports, but this one specifically.”
Assaad, who studied international affairs and got her masters in political science at University of South Florida, said she was lucky when she landed a job with Maxar.
“Being someone who is in international affairs, this to me is like a nerd’s dream to be able to dive into all these topics that are current and important,” Assaad said. “I can just dig in and find out exactly what’s happening.”
Maxar is a satellite company that photographs the Earth from space, collecting and analyzing geospatial data for companies and governments around the world.
Employee comments: “Everyday there is something new to learn about. There is not a single day that goes by without new opportunities or challenges that are presented to the team for us to accomplish.”
“I have the opportunity to work with talented people on a variety of real world problem sets with topics I am genuinely interested in. I enjoy supporting US Government partners’ missions because I can see the potential for positive, global impacts.”
“My job allows me to be creative while providing decision makers with critical information or helping people in need.”