Commercial satellites push the borders of the Russia-Ukraine conflict –

Commercial satellites push the borders of the Russia-Ukraine conflict –
The satellite image shows a Russian plane landing at Luninet Air Base in Belarus on March 1. (Planet Labs PBC / AP)

One of the images shows the bombed hangar at the Ukrainian airbase, where a large cargo plane was destroyed. In the photo below is the bridge that connects Ukraine to Belarus, piece by piece. Next: Smoke trails along the Russian-Ukrainian border, probably from where the rocket was launched.

The high-resolution satellite images were not covertly removed by the CIA or the National Intelligence Agency following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. They are also not classified. Additionally, the images come from a private company known as Planet, which is one of several companies with a fleet of satellites that act as eyes in the sky or, in this case, in space. The images are publicly available, posted on the Internet and published to the media, and represent real-time documentation of high-quality fleets of satellites orbiting the Earth.

The images are so revealing and so precious during the war that Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Fedorov A request sent to some friends last week The companies urge them to share the photos with the Ukrainian military.

“We really need the opportunity to monitor the movement of Russian troops, especially at night,” he wrote on Twitter. “This is truly the first major war in which commercially available satellite imagery can play an important role in providing open source information on troop movements, military proliferation, neighboring countries, refugee flows and more.”

At least five satellite companies are now sharing their footage, EOS Data Analytics, a company Fedorov wants to partner with satellite companies on data processing, Fedorov told the Washington Post this week. An EOS spokesperson said eight other people did not respond. The speaker did not name any companies.

Countries have been using satellites to spy on their enemies for decades. But the revolution in satellite technology that has made them smaller, cheaper and more powerful, even putting them in private hands, raises new questions about the implications of such information, especially in wartime.

What if a U.S. business entity provides effective information, such as footage of a Russian convoy, to a foreign government and then uses that data to carry out an attack? Would a satellite attack justify Russia? And if that happens, how would the US government react?

Despite the Pentagon’s longstanding interest in private sector satellite capabilities, these questions are not easy to answer and its partnership with 10 commercial satellites Corporations have control over what happens in space. But Russia’s current war in Ukraine has made them a new problem.

At this week’s hearing of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, Senator Tim Kane (D-Va.) Said: “Russia, Block signals and block coverageElon Musk’s Starlink satellite system in Ukraine and commander of the US space command asked General James Dickinson what the “legislative framework” is when “private actors are involved in controversial situations”. Dickinson did not elaborate, but noted that Starlink’s operations demonstrate “what the megastructure or impact architecture can offer in terms of redundancy and capacity.”

Jack Byrd, co-director of aerospace, computer and telecommunications law programs at the University of Nebraska School of Law and a recognized expert on the subject, told the Post that the closure is not generally considered a “use of force.” But he acknowledged that it was not yet clear what the US or other countries would respond to in the event of an attack on a commercial satellite. “If shooting down a commercial satellite to respond to an armed attack is inexperienced,” he said. “It’s easy to say that a lot of things like this are broken, because they are. But they are becoming more and more relevant. “

This is a report from last year from the Center for Strategic and International Studies examining the degree of conflict that could manifest in space, including a commercial space system being attacked from another country.

“We did it on purpose because we thought this was a political area where it was not clear how we would respond and how we would respond to such an attack,” said Todd Harrison, CSIS defense analyst and co-author of the report. . “We strongly urge policy makers to focus on this question and I don’t think we have the answers yet.”

It’s entirely possible for a trading company to become a legitimate target in an armed conflict, says Brian Widen, director of program planning at the Secure World Foundation Analytics Center.

“If a commercial company sells data to a warring party in an armed conflict and that fighter uses that data for targeted purposes, the commercial actor is very likely to be a party to the conflict,” he said. “This could be another option for a commercial satellite to be a legitimate military target.

Or maybe a control car. Virgin Orbit executives say they are considering a military role for the satellite’s launch pad, which has drawn interest from the Pentagon as it launches missiles from the 747 aircraft’s wings, rather than from a vertically fixed checkpoint. This means that a military customer could launch a rocket hundreds of miles away from a well-known military base and “position the satellite almost carelessly,” said Dan Hart, CEO of Virgin Orbit.

But Virgin Orbit also acknowledges that such wartime launches can be seen as part of the conflict. In this case, which according to Hart is a rare and extreme example, it will seek to replace its civilian pilots with military personnel.

“We certainly don’t want to be directly involved in the armed conflict,” he said. The company added that it “could provide the system to the military.” But “we expect Air Force pilots to fly the mission, which is certainly not that difficult,” she said.

The cosmos has always included military activities from the very beginning. The space programs of NASA and Russia are also based on military activities, and the Chinese space program has raised the alarm over the years that a rocket capable of carrying humans into orbit can also send warheads thousands of miles away. .

Bird, who is the editor-in-chief of the Woomera International Handbook of Military Space Operations, which aims to lead policy on military space operations, said commercial space flights have contributed to this new fold.

“We don’t have a reference guide to refer to. There is no full discussion of military action in space. “However, the cosmos has always engaged in horrific military activity,” she said.

A spokesperson for Planet, which provides hundreds of images of Russian military operations in Ukraine, said the company “continues to provide images to our partners in governments, meteorological and humanitarian organizations, data analysts and the media.” However, the spokesperson refused to “share specific names of companies or governments to which we provide our data”.

A spokesperson for Finnish satellite company Iceye was also unclear and said he was aware of several initiatives that were “monitoring the collection of available information”. We are in contact with these representatives and we are trying to coordinate ”.

But not everyone in the industry thinks satellite companies should publicly broadcast images from Ukraine.

“I wish they hadn’t shared it with the mainstream media, because everything they broadcast is seen by the Russians, which defeats the purpose of intelligence,” said Mark Bell, CEO of satellite company Terran Orbital.

Several US satellite companies have contracts with the Pentagon and intelligence agencies. But because such studies are largely classified, military analysts say it is difficult to know the scope and scope of the study.

And it’s entirely possible that the Pentagon and US intelligence agencies will see sensitive images before the public sees them.

“It appears that agencies have the right to use satellite companies for the first time,” Baird said. “But then this material still belongs to the company and they have the right to release it.”

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Source: Washington Post