Private Earth observation companies have been sharing satellite images of Ukraine and its bordering countries amid Russia’s military invasion, but these efforts are not actually helping resistance fighters on the ground, Ukrainian entrepreneur Max Polyakov said in a call with reporters on Monday (Feb. 28).
Polyakov, who co-founded the Texas-based spaceflight company Firefly Aerospace, urged Earth observation companies to help Ukraine’s defense operations by freely and rapidly sharing data and images from their satellites with EOS Data Analytics, a company Polyakov owns. EOS would then rapidly process that data and share it with Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense to help fight the Russian invasion, he said.
“Right now, we need to have intelligence,” Polyakov said. Specifically, Ukrainian resistance forces need more data and images from synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites, he stressed.
Optical imagery like the views shared by companies such as Maxar Technologies, BlackSky and Planet is not as useful, he argued — especially when the imagery isn’t made available immediately. Those satellites, which rely on visible and infrared light, also can’t see through clouds and don’t see much at night.
SAR satellites, on the other hand, work a bit differently. Rather than passively observing our planet, SAR satellites actively transmit signals down to Earth and observe how those signals are reflected. This allows the satellites to “see” what’s down below regardless of lighting or cloud conditions.
It’s pretty cloudy in Ukraine during February. The ability to see through clouds has made Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) images — like this one from @capellaspace showing a new Russian unit deploying the border — the breakout “new space” capability of this crisis. pic.twitter.com/1tMjTVLUZdFebruary 22, 2022
“We have enough fighters … we have enough local support to kill all the Russians on our territory; we just don’t know from where they will hit, and at night we are blind because we do not have intelligence,” Polyakov said.
Mykhailo Federov, the vice prime minister of Ukraine and the country’s minister of digital transformation, echoed Polyakov’s plea in a public letter to several remote sensing companies, which he posted to Twitter on Tuesday (March 1).
“We badly need the opportunity to watch the movement of Russian troops, especially at night when our technologies are blind in fact! SAR satellite data is important to understanding Russian troop and [vehicle] movements at night considering that clouds cover about 80 percent of Ukraine during the day,” Federov wrote. “Our appeal is based on the strong understanding that your cooperation and the information you can provide can save [the] lives of our people,” he added.
@eos_da and @maxpolyakov appeal to the global remote sensing firms and organizations to provide real-time SAR data to support the Armed Forces of Ukraine with actionable intelligence. pic.twitter.com/DzfNze3K3rMarch 1, 2022
EOS Data Analytics has set up a new website with more information for satellite operators about how to share their data with the company and the defense ministry.
“The economic, political, and humanitarian consequences of the war in Ukraine already are too high to stand on the sidelines. If you can help us, please provide the SAR data that actually makes a difference,” Polyakov said in a statement posted to the EOS webpage.
“Outdated optical satellite imagery is applicable for PR purposes and as evidence of war crimes for future international criminal court proceedings,” he added, but “Ukraine needs actionable intelligence to be able to save the millions of innocent people and the sovereignty of the country.”