Ukrainian entrepreneur calls for faster, better satellite data to help fight Russian invasion

A Maxar satellite image shows Russian airborne forces in Zdvyzhivka, Ukraine, on Feb. 28, 2022. (Image credit: Maxar Technologies)

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. 

Related: Satellite photos reveal details of Russian invasion into Ukraine

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.

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"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 (opens in new tab) 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.

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EOS Data Analytics has set up a new website (opens in new tab) 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."

Email Hanneke Weitering at hweitering@space.com or follow her on Twitter @hannekescience. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) and on Facebook (opens in new tab).

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Hanneke Weitering is an editor at Space.com with 10 years of experience in science journalism. She has previously written for Scholastic Classroom Magazines, MedPage Today and The Joint Institute for Computational Sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. After studying physics at the University of Tennessee in her hometown of Knoxville, she earned her graduate degree in Science, Health and Environmental Reporting (SHERP) from New York University. Hanneke joined the Space.com team in 2016 as a staff writer and producer, covering topics including spaceflight and astronomy. She currently lives in Seattle, home of the Space Needle, with her cat and two snakes. In her spare time, Hanneke enjoys exploring the Rocky Mountains, basking in nature and looking for dark skies to gaze at the cosmos.