From the building of the Russian power along the border before the invasion, a giant Russian military column was discovered north of Kyiv at the beginning of the war, corpses were discovered in the streets of Potzga and the inscription “Children” in the asphalt outside the area of a destroyed theater in Mariupol.
All of this relied on advanced satellites orbiting around 600 kilometers around us. This war, detailed images are more accessible to the public than ever before.
Russian President Vladimir Putin made clear last week that the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine was the obvious target of the new offensive. The Russian-backed separatist republics of Donetsk, Luhansk and Ukraine have been at war in the region since 2014.
But in the past week, the well-known satellite images, provided mainly by the private American company Maxar, gradually disappeared from the public eye.
The last photos of the company were released on April 12, and were taken in the previous days.
Since then, calm has reigned from satellites over Ukraine. Despite warnings from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that Russia was sending almost everything it had to eastern Ukraine and intelligence warnings of a sharp escalation, this was not visible from the Guardians of Heaven.
The director of the Norwegian Space Center, Terje Waal, who has been researching satellite observations for years, says there may be several explanations for the fewer images in the past week.
– Maxar and similar images were taken by large satellite telescopes and are based on clear weather. He tells Dagbladet that they can’t see through the clouds.
– You should know where to look
Last week, the region in eastern Ukraine was marked by a lot of rain and clouds. Retired Lt. Gen. Arne Burd Dalhaug thinks this is an explanation for fewer photos now.
– We may not think about it, but they depend on free vision. I think the weather explains a lot, Dalhaug tells Dagbladet.
He shows that Maxar satellites have tremendous accuracy and can show details such as satellites conducting climate monitoring cannot be captured. Although large companies such as Airbus have similar technologies, they are less accessible to the public. Maxar has four satellites in orbit, and six new ones will eventually go into space, according to space news.
A satellite orbits the Earth in about 100 minutes, with the Earth’s rotation it can pass in an area once or twice a day. Wall explains that he then needs clear weather and knowing exactly where to look.
Earth can’t be emptied
The challenge is also that satellite details can see a very narrow picture, and therefore cannot vacuum the whole of Ukraine, as the space scientist explains.
According to the Federation of Concerned Scientists of America, this was all year round 4852 operational satellites in orbit around the earth. Few of them possess such advanced optical technology as the Maxar satellites. The company also sells its photos to US intelligence.
– There has been tremendous development in the last ten years. Commercial actors have come up with a technology previously reserved for large military actors in space. What’s new in this struggle, apart from quality and technology, is that many detailed images have been shared for free in public. It’s becoming almost familiar and opaque, says Wall.
Depending on the intelligence
Despite the lack of public information from the air, Ukraine has several ways to monitor the land activity of Russia.
Ukraine receives information from foreign intelligence and has many methods. The United States, for example, has its own satellites of better capacity. It has been proven that Russian soldiers carry cell phones that they are not supposed to have. In this way, Ukraine could also monitor and detect military sites, says Lt. Gen. Dalhaug.
Dalhaug, who between 2016 and 2019 was an observer in the Donbass region of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, believes that the satellites were important in the war.
It provides an opportunity for independent media and sources to confirm intelligence, while at the same time giving the general public a much better understanding of conditions on the ground. These photos also make it more difficult to hide their tracks, explains the retired general.
The former head of the Norwegian intelligence group E 14, Ola Kaldager, says that military satellites can be targeted much more than commercial satellites and are very important in war.
Sitting with detailed pictures is very important and gives a military advantage. In comparison, previously, people had to be physically sent to areas to take pictures. It’s possible that Russia also has satellite images, but we don’t know the quality of those images, Caldager tells Dagbladet.
It is believed that the photographs acquired great importance in the war in Ukraine.
It is very important to see what war really is. That’s a curse and I never thought I’d have a conventional war on the ground in Europe in 2022. I thought I was done after Bosnia.
The photos are good evidence, even though Russia tried to say that it was manipulation. The images matter and have had political consequences. Among other things, Sweden and Finland may be on their way to NATO. Caldager says the media war is very important.
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