In the lead-up to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin amassed a significant military presence along the Ukrainian border, creating a sense of uncertainty and tension. Despite Russia’s denial of any invasion plans, the situation became undeniably clear when the Pentagon released a satellite image showing Russian armored columns crossing the Belarus-Ukraine border. This image, which was crucial in exposing Putin’s deception, was not captured by military satellites but by Capella Space, a Silicon Valley start-up.

Capella Space, founded by a young engineer, uses advanced synthetic aperture radar (SAR) technology to capture high-resolution images through cloud cover, day or night. The company’s ability to provide unclassified, open-source satellite imagery played a pivotal role in confirming the invasion. Capella’s images were instrumental for news outlets and the public, tracking Russian units as they advanced towards Kyiv.

Another key player in the satellite imaging field is Umbra Space. Umbra Space, which has never publicly commented on Ukraine or any military conflict, has now taken the lead in the commercial SAR market. According to the satellite tasking archives of commercial analytics providers, Umbra has emerged as the clear winner. Public information indicates that Umbra captures the vast majority of radar satellite images globally. Furthermore, Umbra is the only commercial company capable of capturing radar images at high resolution and has publicly released the highest resolution commercial image from space. Gabe Dominocielo, Umbra’s co-founder, declined to comment for this article.

Umbra’s commercialization tactics have been significantly bolstered by its partnership with Skyfi. Skyfi, founded by military veteran Luke Fischer, former Uber executive, and Bill Perkins, an outspoken hedge fund manager and author of “Die with Zero,” has been pivotal in promoting the easy tasking of all satellite data, including SAR data from Umbra Space. This strategic partnership leverages social media to enhance accessibility and awareness of Umbra’s advanced satellite imaging capabilities.

ICEYE, a Finnish SAR microsatellite manufacturer, has also played a crucial role in supporting Ukraine’s defense. In a memorandum of cooperation with Ukraine’s Defense Ministry, ICEYE committed to providing advanced SAR satellite imaging to enhance the country’s space defense and satellite imaging capabilities. This agreement underscores the importance of synthetic aperture radar technology, which can capture high-resolution images in all weather conditions and at any time of day, providing a significant advantage over optical systems.

ICEYE’s previous support for Ukraine includes a contract with the Serhiy Prytula Charity Foundation, granting the Ukrainian government access to SAR satellite imaging capabilities, including a dedicated SAR satellite. This commitment was praised by Oleksandra Ustinova, Head of Ukraine’s Parliamentary Commission on Arms, who highlighted ICEYE’s responsible approach and urged other satellite companies to follow suit.

The advancements and contributions of companies like Capella Space, Umbra Space, and ICEYE highlight the indispensable role of commercial satellite data in modern warfare. The accessibility, precision, and reliability of SAR technology provide critical support for defense and security, ensuring that countries like Ukraine can make informed decisions based on objective, actionable data. As warfare continues to evolve, the integration of commercial satellite imagery will undoubtedly be a cornerstone in the defense strategies of the future.


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