Damaged Russian airfield in Crimea spied by satellites (photos)

A smoke plume billows on the horizon behind sunflower fields, in the Donbass region on August 11, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
A smoke plume billows on the horizon behind sunflower fields, in the Donbass region on August 11, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Image credit: BULENT KILIC/AFP via Getty Images)

Satellite images have revealed the extent of damage at Russia's Saki Air Base on Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, which is currently occupied by Russian military forces.

The explosions at the air base come nearly six months into Russia's invasion of Ukraine. A series of explosions rocked the airfield on Tuesday (Aug. 9), which were captured on camera by vacationing beachgoers nearby. The Russian Ministry of Defense issued a statement shortly after the incident claiming the blasts were the result of an accidental detonation of aviation munitions, according to a report by CNN

However, NBC News reports that senior Ukrainian military officials have claimed the explosions were caused by Ukrainian long-range missile strikes, or even by Ukrainian guerillas operating on the peninsula.

Related: Satellite photos reveal details of Russian invasion into Ukraine

Whatever the cause, the explosions appear to have severely damaged numerous high-profile military assets at the base, based on satellite imagery captured by Maxar Technologies. The images appear to show numerous aircraft badly damaged and burned, some of them lying in pieces on a scorched tarmac.

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NBC News reports that at least nine Russian military aircraft were destroyed in the explosions based on its analysis of satellite imagery captured by San Francisco-based company Planet. Russian officials have denied that any aircraft were damaged.

Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine has already had a significant impact on international cooperation in space. In July, officials from NASA, the Canadian Space Agency and the European Space Agency all issued statements condemning Russia's use of the International Space Station (ISS) for anti-Ukrainian propaganda. After making a series of dizzying and antagonistic statements, Russia's space agency Roscosmos stated on Aug. 2 it would begin withdrawing from the ISSprogram in 2024. 

The European Space Agency also withdrew its cooperation with Russia on a life-hunting Mars rover mission as part of the broader ExoMars project.

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Brett Tingley
Managing Editor, Space.com

Brett is curious about emerging aerospace technologies, alternative launch concepts, military space developments and uncrewed aircraft systems. Brett's work has appeared on Scientific American, The War Zone, Popular Science, the History Channel, Science Discovery and more. Brett has English degrees from Clemson University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. In his free time, Brett enjoys skywatching throughout the dark skies of the Appalachian mountains.