An article in The Atlantic mentions the frustration voiced by President Volodymyr Zelensky about the recent drop in deliveries of US air defense missiles. This followed the March 2 strike on Odesa that killed 12 people, including five children.

The article says that irritation is even worse among Ukraine’s military, who believe there is strong evidence that Russia is using US commercial satellite imagery to plan and guide its missile attacks.

The Ukrainian military officer says that acquiring both archived and recently produced satellite imagery has never been easier.  Furthermore, if Russia wants to attack stationary residential or industrial areas, archived high-resolution pictures, with date of acquisition and coordinates, can be purchased without too many questions being asked.


For military targets, getting hold of more recent satellite coverage is a little more difficult, but the purchase can be carried out through third-party companies in friendly nations or organizations, just as they do for other commercial products when avoiding sanctions.

The source, believed to be an officer of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) and “in the know,” said he believed it was obvious that the number of incidents is too widespread to be simple coincidence. He said there have been instances of imagery being bought from a satellite pass after which, in a matter of days or weeks, a Russian missile hits the area. The satellite company then receives a request for coverage of the same area, probably to assess the effectiveness of the strike.

‘Zero Missiles Left’ -  Zelensky Says Ukraine's Air Defence Resources Depleted
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‘Zero Missiles Left’ - Zelensky Says Ukraine's Air Defence Resources Depleted

The latest round of Russian missile and kamikaze drone attacks underlined the desperate air defense situation Ukraine faces as Western support continues to dry up.

The source cited three such examples.

  • Investigations after a strike on a military airfield in Myrhorod in the Poltava region in April 2022 found that the US satellite company had previously received nine separate requests for coverage of the area and a week after the attack another demand for imagery of the same object.
  • There was a similar story when Russia fired six cruise missiles at the Lviv State Aircraft Repair Plant in March 2022.
  • Then, in January this year, fresh material covering Ukraine’s capital was purchased after which there was an attack on the city and surrounding area using more than 40 cruise and ballistic missiles.

Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Katerina Chernorenko believes there are hundreds of such examples where third parties are getting the product from market leaders such as Maxar and Planet Lab. Ukraine believes that the US Defense Department shares the same view.

While US companies say they stopped cooperating with Russia immediately after its full-scale invasion, Kyiv is convinced that the Kremlin is getting its hands on their product to plan its bombardment of Ukrainian targets. The AFU says it monitors Russian satellites whose technical capabilities are limited.


Another source, a satellite imagery specialist, told The Atlantic that he had compared requests for photographs of Ukraine with subsequent Russian missile attacks and had identified more than 350 probable cases during the first year of the war alone. He said the problem was not the images being bought directly from the satellite company but the resale of the material for which there are currently few controls in place.

The Atlantic says it requested and acquired recent photos of the frontline city of Zaporizhzhia from a reseller offering Planet Lab images. Their reporter said that, after providing his name and credit card information, he received a high-resolution photograph a few minutes later.

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Comments (2)
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As of Oct. 2023, Russia has a total of 220 satellites in orbit, which is only about 2.5 percent of the global total of nearly 9,000 operational satellites. There are presently 4,000 US based Starlink satellites in orbit and UK firm OneWeb has about 600 operational satellites.

In 2023 Russia state TV interviewed chief of Russian space operations Yuri Borisov, was asked about russia's intent to build an additional 264-satellite constellation called "Sphere".

According to Borisov, the combined efforts of the US industry and government can build about 3,000 satellites a year, and China has production facilities capable of manufacturing 1,200 to 1,500 satellites a year. The sprawling Russian space corporation he runs, Roscosmos, cannot come close to matching these totals.

"It turned out we weren't ready for this," he said in the interview. "Today all satellite manufacturing companies of our industry are capable of building about 40 satellites per year."

So yep, russia currently relying on satellite imaging taken from other countries.

How to stop russian and its sanction busting supporters from internet hacking / intel theft of allied resources ....thats the better question
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I dont know the intelligence of your readers but to suspect that Russia has to purchase satellite images to plan military strategy is just ridiculous. I understand that you must make it seem like Russia is a weak unintelligent nation incapable of doing its own work but come on, this article is just rubbish. Its laughable. The first country in space is not able to produce its own satellite data??? Bit of a stretch but if thats what you think of your subscribers then it says little about you.

Justin Rogers
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Justin Rogers
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@Deedub, we've seen how well Russia has upkept its military hardware and equipment.... Why would they do any better with space hardware and equipment?

Besides, it's even easier for Ivan to call a friend in a "neutral" country and ask for a favor. Said friend then purchases requested footage. The mafia doesn't need a satellite when they can just grease wheels for the content they desire.

They did the same with starlink.
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@Deedub, "The first country in space" This is really funny, well done!
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