Space brings transparency to the war in Ukraine

Space brings transparency to the war in Ukraine

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Detailed images of the battlefield in Ukraine taken from space and the internet via satellite beamed to the front lines of war have shaped the year-long conflict – and how the public understands it.

Why is it important: Space technologies have been essential to warfare for decades, but their use in the conflict in Ukraine has demonstrated how they can give citizens a clear view of war.

What is happening: Planet, Maxar and other companies use satellite images sent back from orbit to reveal details about what is happening on the ground.

  • In April 2022, satellite photos claims refuted by Russia that images of bodies on the streets of Bucha were staged by Ukrainian forces. Photos from Maxar showed bodies on the streets before Russian forces withdrew from the city.
  • SpaceX’s Starlink has also played a key role in Ukraine’s efforts, providing people on the ground with internet access and contributing to battlefield situational awareness.

The big picture: In a BBC interview Last year, Space Force chief General Jay Raymond said the war in Ukraine was the “first war where commercial space capabilities really played a significant role”.

  • Many of these companies also regularly send these types of photos to the media.
  • “[T]The global attention on the event was much bigger, much wider, and our images were used to help tell an ongoing critical story at this point,” Maxar CEO Dan Jablonsky told Axios. .
  • Through the dissemination of images of the war in Ukraine, Maxar and Planet say they aim to increase transparency and accountability.
  • “As the saying goes, ‘sunlight is the best disinfectant for democracies’, and we believe that advances in commercial imagery are helping to provide that sunlight and guide into a new era of shared consciousness in a scale that we really have never seen before in past conflicts,” Robert Cardillo of Planet Federal told Axios.

Between the lines: These companies could also put their assets at risk through their efforts.

  • SpaceX’s Elon Musk said in May 2022 that Russian cyberattacks against Starlink have intensified.
  • A Russian official said in October that commercial satellites could be considered “legitimate” targets for reprisals.

The plot: The use of commercial assets in wartime also allows private companies to make decisions about what is acceptable and what is not.

  • SpaceX this month limited Starlink capabilities in Ukraine after the national army used the constellation of satellites to operate drones targeting Russian troops.
  • Starlink “was never intended to be weaponized, but the Ukrainians operated it unintentionally and not as part of any deal,” SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell said. said February 9.

What to watch: These uses of space technology could have far-reaching consequences in the future.

  • Planet and Microsoft collaborated to create a building damage assessment tool for Ukraine. “This is something that would normally have taken months, but given the urgency, was delivered within weeks,” Cardillo said.
  • Government agencies have already partnered with these companies to buy images for years, but the use of data during the war in Ukraine could further strengthen these partnerships.