The search for the wreckage of Flight MH370 involves an unusual alliance of intelligence, military and civilian resources.

Crucial to the first step of the search are the most heavily-veiled of assets, the satellites. The search is being conducted in a part of the world, Asia, where the United States and China are devoting their most secret resources to watching each other.

Air Commodore John McGarry of the Royal Australian Air Force was carefully cryptic when discussing the images which have now concentrated the search far out into the ocean south-west of Australia. “The imagery has been progressively captured by satellites passing over various areas,” he said. No indication of whose satellites they were.

The images released late Wednesday were taken on Sunday.

The clock here is ticking with some urgency—the beacons attached to the Boeing 777’s flight data recorders are already nearly half way through their effective battery life of 30 days. Not only that, but the pings sent out from the beacons to guide searchers to the location have an effective range of only five miles.

This might seem to be an inexcusably long lag in response time. But it’s not as simple as that. Commodore McGarry pointed out that the output from the satellite has to be analyzed frame by frame, and covers a large area.

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