[[caption-width-right:194:[[ComedicUnderwearExposure I See London, I See France - and yes, I can see your underpants]].]]

->''I am the eye in the sky''
->''Looking at you''
->''I can read your mind''
-->-- '''Music/TheAlanParsonsProject''', "Eye in the Sky"

Much-beloved of the SpyDrama and a technical element that they most frequently get wrong, the omnipresent "eye-in-the-sky" is always shown to be a whole lot more useful than it truly is.

Satellite views are usually shown to be immune to clouds, 100 percent reliable, always available, and seem to be right over the target just when they are needed. The biggest error, however, is showing a live fixed video feed from orbit.

It is important to separate satellites into two main categories: LEO (low earth orbit) and GEO (geosynchronous earth orbit). The GEO satellites are able to stay over one location indefinitely, but cannot be used for spying purposes; their extreme altitude means that the image would be too rough to be useful. GEO satellites are used for communication and meteorological purposes. LEO satellites, on the other hand, are capable of mounting cameras, but move so fast that they cannot keep a constant watch on a location, overshooting and often passing over any one point on Earth several times a day. Furthermore, they are extremely vulnerable to cloud cover and smokescreens. The only ones that aren't affected by this are the ones equipped with Synthetic Aperture Radars, but they can only see metallic objects. Which does mean, incidentally, that they are very good for spying on tank formations.

Consider the fact that most spy satellites orbit around 200 miles or so above the ground. This means that it has to travel at just below five miles per second to stay in orbit. The amount of live feed you can get, therefore, is next to zero and you'll have to have the satellite rotating to do it. Slanting will occur very rapidly. If you want to hold a satellite over a place for any major length of time, you need to put it into geostationary orbit (22,240 miles over the equator) or an elliptical 'Molniya-style' orbit. Any images will be uselessly slanted, unless you happen to want good shots of Ecuador and have a really powerful zoom lens. Essentially, this is one of the many sub-tropes of SpaceDoesNotWorkThatWay.

Satellites also often display an absurd level of detail. The resolution of an optical system is primarily based on its aperture (i.e. diameter). For that reason, spy satellites have pretty big telescopes in the meter-plus-range, meaning their images have pixel resolution in the 1-cm-range on the ground (details are, of course, classified). This would be enough only for a pretty low image quality. The limiting factor is inherent in the physics of light, and not going to be averted by cool classified technology (existent or not).

Data processing also consumes a certain amount of time. Nobody should be, on the fly, searching footage of a city for a specific license plate, for example.

If the live satellite feed looks just like recycled footage from earlier in the episode, then it's a MagicalSecurityCam.

It should also be pointed out that according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies' 2007 Military Balance, the US only has three visual satellites in orbit.

Compare PalantirPloy, often an integral component in SinisterSurveillance. Also compare/contrast KillSat, which kills people instead of just watching them.

When done in the modern context with [=UAVs=], it is far more justifiable.

[[folder: Anime & Manga]]
* Near in ''Manga/DeathNote'' offers to use one of these to keep an eye on a hostage crisis, but it's forgivable as it makes absolutely no impact on the plot.
* Used very straight in the ''Anime/ReadOrDie'' OVA. A spy satellite identifies a villain talking to TheMole in a crowded Indian village. Then after a few seconds of footage, the villain looks up, sees the satellite, and the feed cuts off. (We briefly see that he knocked it out of orbit with his extensible staff.)
* The SWORD intelligence agency in Anime/Vexille has tried to spy on Japan but has repeatedly failed because of the electromagnetic shield that surrounds the archipelago. The shield scrambles all outgoing light waves which makes spy satellites unable to see anything but static. The main plot's infiltration mission is to get a team into Japan so they can set up a beacon that will act as a central focal point so a satellite can get a clear image of the country.

* In ''FanFic/AeonEntelechyEvangelion'' the military has a few satellites that were not shot down by the Migou. Unfortunately for them, the effectiveness of these satellites is low because of the Migou orbital superiority.
* ''Fanfic/NeonExodusEvangelion'' has, in the final chapter, all the spy satellites controlled by X-COM, since they sent up Raiden interceptors to destroy any satellites SEELE had. They're pretty much only used for searching for the villain's base.
* Unsurprisingly downplayed in ''Fanfic/CalvinAndHobbesTheSeries'' - Calvin tries to make a camera into something like this.

* {{Lampshade|Hanging}}d in ''Film/EnemyOfTheState''. When Dean meets Brill on a rooftop, TheGovernment agents assigned to track Dean try to determine Brill's identity, but can only see the top of his head. When one agent asks why they can't just move the camera, the technician replies that the satellite is at least 200 miles in the air, so the only angle it can look at is straight down.
* Averted in ''Film/BehindEnemyLines''. When the Admiral uses a spy satellite to try and find his lost pilot, he is only able to see the area for a few short minutes before the satellite moves out of position.
* Averted in a [[ZigZaggingTrope zig zag fashion]] in Creator/TomClancy's ''Film/PatriotGames''. When {{CIA}} intelligence analysts use a spy satellite to figure out which of several camps belongs to a rogue faction of the IRA, they are forced to use a still picture and to make some rather ambitious inferences to determine that the camp belongs to the bad guys - the camera can't show them faces. On the other hand, when an DGSE platoon raids the camp at night, the infrared spy satellite watching the action appears to give a perfect 'camera in the sky' view of the action. As it only takes a few minutes to perform the actual strike part of the raid, orbital mechanics (which get discussed) aren't a problem in that particular instance.
* The orbital particle beam cannon in ''Film/UnderSiege2DarkTerritory'' had a video lens that was powerful enough to focus on the breasts of a topless sunbather in Los Angeles in crystal-clear real time.
* ''Film/MenInBlack'' plays it straight when K is watching his lost love, although it does appear to turn into a freeze-frame as she looks upward.
* Soundwave in ''Film/TransformersRevengeOfTheFallen'' takes this to the natural extreme, using a satellite as his alt mode. He can even hijack other spy satellites.
* Used in ''Film/GoldenEye'': After detonation of the first [=GoldenEye=] satellite above Severnaya fried all satellites in the area, the British secret service brings in another satellite to observe the wreckage... And Bond notices [[GirlOfTheWeek something]] moving.
* In ''Film/DejaVu'', Doug is initially told that "Snow White" uses a series of satellites to generate extremely-detailed images at ground level with a 4-day delay due to the complexity of the program. The same complexity is also explained as the reason why no recording and rewinding is possible. [[spoiler:This is a lie, as Doug becomes suspicious and is eventually told that they're actually viewing the events through a wormhole]].

* Several of Creator/PhilipJoseFarmer's novels include spy satellites. In the ''Dayworld'' series they are a weapon of a future [[strike:police state]] sharing caring one-world government. Interestingly, even though the articles were written in the 70's/ early 80's Farmer has the satellites hooked up to gait-analysing computers. It adds to the paranoid atmosphere: once the characters become fugitives they have to wear widebrim hats and spend every moment on the street walking in a deliberately different pattern.
* ''Literature/JackRyan'':
** As in the film version, Spy Satellites played a central role in the plot of ''Literature/PatriotGames'', with a portion of the plot centering around the CIA personnel trying to outwit the [[UsefulNotes/TheTroubles Northern Irish]] [[WesternTerrorists extremists]] who made a point of avoiding being outside when the American satellites passed over head. At one point, a satellite gets a photo of a woman in a low-cut dress, as viewed from above. One of the analysts [[DiscussedTrope estimates]] that she had to be a C-Cup or bigger, because the limited resolution of the satellites meant that they wouldn't be able to see her cleavage if she were any smaller.
** Spy satellites show up in other Ryanverse stories, but usually in a realistic fashion: with still photos, known trajectories, and otherwise limited ability. When spy satellites are ''not'' appropriate (for example, in ''Without Remorse'', part of which involves the Vietnam War), drones and UAVs are used. ''The Bear and The Dragon'' actually focuses on how Dark Star UAVs (essentially stealthy Predator drones) dramatically shift the balance of power in war, allowing the undertrained, undermanned, ''very'' poorly equipped Russian army to defeat the otherwise overwhelmingly superior Chinese invaders.
** Creator/TomClancy himself used the commercial variety for research on the Dushanbe complex for ''Cardinal of the Kremlin''. It earned him a visit from the [=FBI=], who were concerned he may have been given photos from a "real" spy satellite.
* In Creator/JackMcDevitt's ''Chindi'' (part of the ''Literature/PriscillaHutchins'' series), Hutch and friends find alien spy satellites around an alien world. The aliens went extinct in a global war several thousand years ago, but the satellites are much more advanced than anything this race ever built. Apparently someone wanted a front-row seat for the war. Even more disturbing is the fact that most of the satellites date back to the time of the war, but one of them is less than 100 years old.
* Pandora and Malachi tap into the existing network of these in ''Literature/{{Edenborn}}'' to keep track of the separate camps and eventually to find the cure for Black Ep.
* One ''San Antonio'' novel set before the space age has, as a MacGuffin, a series of unidentifiable photographs. Only at the end do we learn that a rocket released a camera at its apex, which then took increasingly detailed photos on the way down.
* ''Literature/ArtemisFowl'': Foaly makes extensive use of human spy satellites. And then there's the villain who claims the CIA changed a satellite's orbit just to track him...
* In the ''Red Stars'' books, the large-scale naval battle between an American carrier battle group and a Soviet one from a parallel world has the Americans using satellites to their advantage, especially since the NegativeSpaceWedgie that has brought the Soviets to our world cover the whole are in mist. Then the Soviets perform their scans and are astonished to discover orbital satellites right above them. In their world, where their conflict with the Americans is anything but "cold", no orbital satellite is possible, since the other side just shoots it down to prevent this trope. Only one-shot parabolic satellites are employed. The Soviets then use the surface-to-space missiles they have for just such a purpose to shoot down the American satellites, blinding them.

* ''Series/TwentyFour'' has had this one several times. In its first use George Mason asked for thirty-second intervals. The footage shown were blatantly more like a picture every five seconds.
* ''Series/{{Alias}}'' constantly relies on this to feed intel to its super-agents as they work in the field. Many of the show's plot points hinge on this trope.
* Used often in the sixth season of ''PowerRangers'', though all PR seasons have used it to some extent whenever the Rangers are watching a monster attacking the CityOfAdventure. Unless it's specifically a tech-based season though, this is generally {{Magitek}} instead of full out SpySatellites.
* ''{{Series/NCIS}}'' in "Eye Spy".
* ''Series/{{Jericho}}'''s track record with satellites is... schizophrenic. On the one hand, you get reasonable-looking still photos from satellites. On the other, you get Hawkins' satellite feeds... which appear to be filmed right at ground level.
* ''{{Series/Fringe}}'' is guilty of this one to a large degree. Not only did they pull up spy sat footage of an area, but it was from hours ago when there would have been no reason for a spy sat to even be looking there. The writers apparently want the viewer to believe that the entire surface of the Earth is not only under constant surveillance but also being archived.
** Oh...yes...of course...that only happens [[BigBrotherIsWatching on that TV show...]] yes...that's all we suspect.
** It's a show about a secret government group that researches weirdness that violates the laws of physics. Absolute surveillance is hardly impossible.
*** Technology clearly ''is'' much more advanced. No one bats an eye when one recurring character is outfitted with a fully functional cyborg arm.
* Generally averted in ''Series/TheUnit'', which uses still photos.
* In an episode of ''Series/ThunderInParadise'', one of the heroes looks for a spy satellite nearby to [[HollywoodHacking hack into]] from his CoolBoat, finds one, and acts as a MissionControl for his partner.
* ''Series/StrikeBack'' has semi-accurate depictions of slanting problems and the satellites drifting out of position, but otherwise adheres to this.
* ''Series/{{JAG}}'': In the second season episode "Rendezvous", a murder case is solved by obtaining photos from a Russian spy satellite showing that the defendant's car was present at the scene of the murder.

* "The Electric Eye" by Music/JudasPriest is sung from a point of view of a spy satellite.
-->You think you've private lives\\
Think nothing of the kind\\
There is no true escape\\
I'm watching all the time

* While you can't actually buy one in the game, ''{{TabletopGame/GURPS}}: High-Tech'' discusses the flaws of the "Eye In The Sky". Along with limits of the technology itself, an untrained character can't even determine what the readouts mean.
* ''TabletopGame/Warhammer40000'': The [[Characters/Warhammer40000ImperialGuard Imperial Guard]] is known to make use of a "sensornet", which includes satellites and orbiting ships' sensor arrays. One Literature/CiaphasCain novel does mention the geosynchronous ones being on the planet's equator.
* ''TabletopGame/BattleTech'' has several types of spy satellites available for use under advanced rules. The benefits they provide vary based on which type is in use.

* Used with irony in one of the ''VideoGame/SplinterCell''. During one of the idle conversations of a guard, he mentions nobody uses spies or bugs anymore, they use satellites. Guards aren't exactly geniuses in the game ([[TheGuardsMustBeCrazy though they aren't crazy either]]), and he was definitely wrong about nobody using spies. Obviously, as you are one.
* The Americans in the ''VideoGame/CommandAndConquerGenerals'' universe make extensive use of spy satellites to track GLA movements. Notably, the satellites in the cutscenes primarily do this by photography instead of video recording. In-game, the HQ (and the upgraded GLA Radar Van) has a standard reveal-a-circular-area scan, but the reveal of ''every'' enemy unit and building is done via the detention camp's interrogations.
* In ''VideoGame/XCOMEnemyUnknown'' , your primary means of tracking UFO activity is putting satellites in orbit to watch over a specific country. Taken to a ridiculous extreme in one cutscene, which has [[MissionControl Bradford]] ordering a satellite to move to a certain set of coordinates. When it spots nothing, he orders it to switch to a ''thermal'' camera, and then finally ''[[XRayVision X-Ray mode]]'', which gives you the layout of [[spoiler:the alien base]].
** The hologlobe also depicts the satellites as hovering directly above their assigned country, but that could be symbolic: Since they're (usually) meant to watch airspace rather than the ground, they could be over the equator without worrying to much about slanting.
** If a UFO is allowed to escape, then there's a chance the aliens will locate and shoot down one of your satellites. A foundry upgrade can reduce the profile of your satellites, making them harder to detect.
* ''VideoGame/{{Starcraft}}'': The Terran's scanning ability seems to use one, as the building that uses it sports a huge receptor dish.
* ''VideoGame/DawnOfWar:'' The Imperial Guard has a sensor ability from their HQ, and one of their upgrades increases weapon range thanks to satellite-transmitted data.

* Parodied in ''Webcomic/SluggyFreelance'': Riff hooks a military GPS signal to track his own position so he could navigate to [[Series/BuffyTheVampireSlayer Muffin The Vampire Baker's]] hometown, where he thinks [[OurVampiresAreDifferent Sam]] is (un-)living. [[http://www.sluggy.com/daily.php?date=990528 All it shows is a (front-on) picture of him with the legend "You Are Here".]]
** Later averted in the storyline [[http://sluggy.com/daily.php?date=070205 Aylee]], where a plan takes advantage of the gaps in satellite coverage.
* Parodied (deconstructed?) by ''Partially Clips'', which points out that to get good footage of Iraq, a spy satellite would need to be in low polar orbit. Anything in low polar orbit must pass over every point on earth sooner or later. And when it's passing over New Jersey, there's no legitimate military work to be done so the soldiers and technicians running it probably watch skinnydippers.
* WebComic/SchlockMercenary occasionally has the crew's ship act as an "Overwatch", especially since the 'person in (ultimate) charge' of pushing any "buttons" is an A.I., making the whole thing automated in effect.

* ''WesternAnimation/KimPossible'' screws this one up every time they show satellite footage, although it is sometimes hard to tell if this show is really making a mistake, or just telling a subtle joke. It is, after all, primarily a comedy.
* One episode of ''WesternAnimation/TheSimpsons'' had the government using spy satellites to find the trillion-dollar bill Mr. Burns had stolen. All they could determine was that it wasn't on his roof.
** In "Brother's Little Helper" Bart is convinced that a satellite is spying on him. At the end of the episode he uses a tank to shoot it down. Mark [=McGwire=] admits that the [[UsefulNotes/{{Baseball}} MLB]] is spying on everyone, pretty much all the time. When Bart asks why, [=McGwire=] says that he could tell the terrifying truth or he could hit some dingers instead for the people. The crowd wants to watch him play, and he takes the massive printout and tries to hide it under his hat.
** Lisa once expresses fear that the UsefulNotes/IvyLeague might find out she once got a less-than-stellar grade. Cut to [[http://simpsonswiki.com/wiki/File:Harvard_University_satellite.png a satellite with the Harvard insignia turning its camera downwards]].
* In ''WesternAnimation/JusticeLeagueUnlimited'', ComicBook/TheQuestion claims that topically applied fluoride doesn't prevent tooth decay, but instead makes teeth detectable by [[TheConspiracy Their]] spy satellite.
---> '''Batman:''' I admit, he's wound a little too tight.
** At [[{{Recap/JusticeLeagueUnlimitedS2E4TaskForceX}} Task Force X]] , Lawton reminds Flag that the Justice League Satellite [[ProperlyParanoid could hear them]].

* One former Soviet spy said that all Soviet military units had a detailed schedule of things they are supposed to do when a Western spy satellite is passing overhead. * Similarly, American units were often similarly informed about Soviet satellite schedules. Sometimes this was due less to spycraft and more due to each side informing the other: Due to nuclear nonproliferation treaties, they had to be able to account for their nuclear bombers to ensure they weren't being covertly deployed, meaning they had to be parked on the ramp at certain times for the satellite flyby.
* Real life spy satellites are either launched covertly or don't stay covert for very long: orbital mechanics are essentially intricate-but-straightforward math: if you see a satellite, and figure out its trajectory based on speed and direction of travel, you can figure out its orbit and when it will be overhead without issue.
* We may not think much of it now, but those satellite and aerial pics you can look up on Google Earth? The image quality would've put many actual spy satellites during the Cold War to shame. Most of said images come from Keyhole, Inc., a CIA-funded company whose name is a direct reference to the Corona spy satellites, which were all designated with the name "Key Hole" followed by a number. Actual spying is prevented, though, because sensitive areas are blacked out or edited away in Google Earth images.
* Numerous Pentagon officials have unofficially claimed that modern spy satellites are so precise that they can see which side a coin on the ground is facing. However even if this is true, its worth noting that a spy satellite would have to know exactly where to look to even find the coin.
* In 2011, the National Reconnaissance Office [[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_National_Reconnaissance_Office_space_telescope_donation_to_NASA unexpectedly offered [=NASA=] two identical 2.4-meter space telescopes]] (each comparable to the Hubble Space Telescope in capability, but considered obsolete by current spy satellite standards). [=NASA=] announced the gift in 2012 and has since kept the units in storage while deciding what to do with them possibilities include use in a wide-field infrared telescope that can directly image extrasolar planets, the observation of Earth's ionosphere and auroras, or sending one to Mars for double duty as a super-high resolution Martian surface camera and an observer of the asteroid belt and outer planets. And in case you were wondering, the terms of the donation specifically state [=NASA=] can't [[{{Blackmail}} point it back at the Earth]].