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Ukraine is winning the space war (with Western satellites)

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Now that we have reached the thirtieth day of the war, there is no longer any doubt that Vladimir Putin miscalculated all the calculations regarding the invasion of Ukraine. While trains equipped with special cold rooms dedicated to transporting dead Russian soldiers average 380 bodies each day, Russia discovers that it is weak not only on land and in intelligence (underrated errors despite its long gestation.’ process), but also in space who was sure she could have a clear superiority as we wrote about the plane many times.

If it is true that the Javelin and Stinger missiles provided to the Ukrainian army have so far slowed the Russian advance, the (real) difference is made by space infrastructures and the proof of this is that pictures are taken every day from all over the world. Previously jealously guarded media and satellites are published and kept classified by intelligence and defense agencies. It is now possible to follow the day-to-day development of the situation in Ukraine and Russia from space thanks to the contribution of information coming from new private and commercial entities that have been added to systems operated by countries with space capacity, including Italy.

It is the wonderful and complex satellite theme that we are exploring Leonardo Alberto Dal Zofo Co-Founder and CEO of Studiomapp, a Geointelligence company born with the goal of accelerating the transition towards a sustainable and secure future that specializes in analyzing satellite imagery using artificial intelligence algorithms and which has received recognition from agencies of the United States Department of Defense, the Communications and Information Agency of NATO, Airbus and other international organizations.

Satellites were traditionally very heavy things (several quintals or even tons), complex and expensive to make and launch over time, and then everything changed. how?

“With the advent of miniaturization and advances in technology, in the past decade we have seen the spread of various types of ‘small satellites’ in low orbit (from 300 km to 1,000 km above our heads), which can weigh a few hundred kilograms even a few grams, and thus building and sending A large number of satellites into space are faster, less complex and less expensive.The advantages of this new approach are diverse and very important: the resilience of the infrastructure and thus the ability to withstand damage and failure, which is essential to ensure continuity of service; the capillary with which the area in question can be covered in time and location, which determines the newness of the acquired data; speed and increase in range for communication with and through satellites to quickly exchange or obtain data, which reduces latency in the use of acquired information; data quality, which translates into signal cleanliness and the ability to capture smaller details, as in the case of photos High resolution for higher magnification.

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Let’s enter the scenario of war these days: what do satellites do?

“In the current stage of high military intensity, which began on February 24, the use of Earth observation satellites in low orbit in the area of ​​operations has been intensified to be able to monitor the movements of battalions and military vehicles on the Russian and Belarusian territories ., Ukrainian, and check the condition of the structures Infrastructure of strategic importance such as airports, buildings, communication routes, power plants, including nuclear. In the past months, in fact, the opening of new camps near the border with Ukraine and the gradual deployment of means captured the attention of intelligence, highlighting the trend of intensification of the danger of a military operation » .

There is also a lot of talk about the development of radar systems in a sector in which Italy is playing a leading role. Is that correct?

<< أدى الإمداد المتزايد باستمرار للخدمات الساتلية من قبل الحكومة (أنظمة مزدوجة ، مدنية وعسكرية) ومن قبل شركات متخصصة مرتبطة غالبًا بوكالات الفضاء الوطنية ، إلى توفير قوة دفع كبيرة في قطاع "اقتصاد الفضاء" من خلال تطوير أساليب وتقنيات الاستغلال المجال الكهرومغناطيسي أكثر وأكثر الطليعية. تمت إضافة تقنية الرادار (مثل SAR ، ورادار الفتحة الاصطناعية) إلى تقنية الصور البصرية المفصلة بشكل متزايد وعروض لا يمكن تصورها قبل بضع سنوات فقط ، حيث طورت إيطاليا خبرة صناعية مهمة ، معترف بها في جميع أنحاء العالم من خلال الأبراج. تم تطوير Cosmo SkyMed (CSK) و Cosmo SkyMed Second Generation (CSG) بواسطة MIUR ووكالة الفضاء الإيطالية ووزارة الدفاع >>.

The development of optical sensors is also impressive. Can you explain how they work?

“Optical (passive) sensors are conceptually similar to digital cameras, albeit more advanced, and use sunlight to capture reflected light. Space- and military-derived technology research and development has made it possible to increase the ability of observations, not only within the visible spectrum but also in the near-infrared (In a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum with a wavelength between about 400 and 1100 nanometers.)’.

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What are the results?

“The undoubted advantages of this feature, for example, make it possible to distinguish vegetation, water and other materials very well from outdoor camouflage means and systems, thanks to the diversity of their chemical-physical properties, although this did not solve the problem of cloud cover and darkness Night The commercial towers that work with optical satellites today provide images whose geometric resolution, that is, the size of the pixels (that is, the square that makes up the basic element of the image) can reach 30 cm on each side. This allows recognition of various details of the observed terrain, such as traces left On the bare ground for the passage of heavy vehicles, details of the condition of buildings hit by missiles or explosions, the presence of military and civilian vehicles, and their arrival also upon identification.”

Going back to the struggle of war these days, how are the images obtained?

Radar-type sensors (active) produce electromagnetic waves and measure the amount of energy reflected by the illuminated scene. For this reason, sensors of this type have the great advantage of being able to capture images regardless of sunlight (day and night), but also weather conditions and cloud cover. These characteristics make SAR use interesting in the Ukrainian scenario, both for the high cloud cover of the area for several months of the year, and for the ability to monitor the presence and movements of vehicles during the night. Despite these advantages, the images produced by SAR sensors are difficult to interpret because they do not return images that use the human eye to give meaning, but mainly represent the chemical-physical and morphological properties of objects and are represented in black and white (signal amplitude) according to the polarization of the signal used or for methods Data Visualization. The electromagnetic signal used by radars also utilizes the signal stage itself which allows centimeter and even millimeter changes to be highlighted in the movements of infrastructure such as bridges, buildings and the ground (in particular landings), which can help to recognize changes between different time acquisitions.”

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This way we can observe the Earth’s surface at different wavelengths?

“Yes, with both types of sensors, data acquired by satellites (space segment) on the ground (terrestrial segment) must be processed by processing algorithms specifically created to make it available for the next stage of interpretation, analysis and augmentation by civil sector professionals. and military.Part of the interpretation and analysis processes are long and repetitive elements subject to false alarms that can invalidate the valuation of the processed information.To support these first two stages, both in the civilian sphere and especially in the military sphere, increasingly refined and accurate artificial intelligence algorithms are used that allow automation of repetitive processes contribute to and support the analysis work and thus provide the decision maker with reliable and timely information.

How big is the organizational machine that uses these tools?

“The Earth’s space control system cannot be separated from a major organizational, technological and financial effort that does not exclude the elements of communication between the various hinges of which it is composed. Towers play a critical role in communications in theaters such as SpaceX’s Starlink, Elon Musk’s company. The continuous development of the situation in this area requires the support of communications from satellite systems such as low-latency satellite Internet access throughout the Ukrainian territory. Thanks to this special space infrastructure, today the Ukrainian forces are still able, despite the devastation caused by the Russian armed forces, to ensure communications between military hinges, in order to quickly benefit from satellite imagery of the supporting international and national institutions. The effort in Kyiv is conducting air operations such as remote driving of drones. Space infrastructures are becoming increasingly essential in everyday life and have proven to play a vital role in times of deep crisis and emergency. In this context, it is important to continue investing in the development of national capabilities, in synergy with European capabilities, and the contribution of private operators will be decisive in accelerating the achievement of technological independence and informational excellence.”

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