Ukrainians Crowdfund Access to Cutting-Edge Satellite Surveillance

Satellite Ukraine.jpg

An artist’s rendition of the ICEYE surveillance satellite. Photo courtesy of Serhiy Prytula Charity Foundation/Twitter.

Photo courtesy Serhiy Prytula Charity Foundation via Twitter.

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainians have been crowdfunding support for their country’s military since Russia first invaded in 2014. Yet that effort has come a long way from the early days of making thunder runs through Russian artillery fire to deliver food, water, and first aid kits. Now, some six months into Russia’s full-scale war, one Ukrainian charity is using some $17 million in donations to purchase control over a cutting-edge surveillance satellite.

“This agreement is a significant step in responding to the Government of Ukraine’s urgent request for critical earth observation data and it will greatly benefit our Armed Forces,” Ukrainian activist Serhiy Prytula, founder of the Serhiy Prytula Charity Foundation, wrote in a release.

On Thursday, Aug. 18, Prytula’s foundation reported the deal with ICEYE, a Finnish-based commercial satellite company, to provide Ukraine’s military total control over one synthetic aperture radar, or SAR, surveillance satellite. The satellite, which is already in an orbit that passes over the Eastern European region, can survey terrain to a fidelity of one meter, through any weather, day or night.


Ukrainian activist Serhiy Prytula, seen here in a photo dated June 1, 2022, has raised millions of dollars through his foundation to support Ukraine’s military. Photo courtesy of Serhiy Prytula/Facebook.

Photo courtesy Serhiy Prytula via Facebook.

“ICEYE owns the most developed radar satellite imaging technology in the world as of today,” Prytula wrote in Thursday’s statement.

ICEYE currently operates a constellation of micro-satellites in low-earth orbit, including the largest commercial fleet of SAR satellites. Weighing in at under 100 kilograms, each SAR satellite is equipped with a sensor that, apart from seeing through clouds and smoke, can also detect subtle changes to an area that are invisible to the naked eye.

“By comparing two or more images you can clearly see where changes have happened between acquisition times,” ICEYE reports on its website. “For example you can see things like if an unpaved road had been used or if work had been done at a construction site.”

Rather than relying on ambient light, SAR sensors emit radar waves that reflect back from the earth’s surface. According to ICEYE’s website, the sensors can zoom out to cover an area of some 50,000 square kilometers while also being able to zoom in to a fidelity of one meter.

Underscoring the technology’s combat applications, the US Air Force’s fleet of F-15E Strike Eagle warplanes are equipped with AN/ASQ-236 synthetic aperture radar pods. According to an Air Force fact sheet, “This technology provides Combat Air Forces with the ability to precisely geo-locate points of interest and conduct surveillance activities day or night, in adverse weather conditions.

According to Thursday’s deal, ICEYE will still operate the assigned satellite, but Ukraine’s military will have full control. Thursday’s deal also grants the government in Kyiv full access to ICEYE’s entire surveillance satellite constellation — comprising 21 spacecraft, according to an ICEYE release.

There is a delay between radar data collection and the delivery of usable imagery to a client — a period of up to five days, according to ICEYE’s website. That lag time could diminish the satellite’s practical utility in daily combat operations. Even so, the ability to detect terrain changes over time could allow Ukraine’s armed forces to spot ammunition depots and other static Russian targets.


An undated image captured by one of ICEYE’s surveillance satellites. Photo courtesy of the ICEYE website.

Photo courtesy of the ICEYE website.

“With this agreement, ICEYE further builds on its efforts to provide objective data and technological support to Ukraine,” Rafal Modrzewski, CEO of ICEYE, said in Thursday’s release. “We firmly believe [synthetic aperture radar] technology and its capabilities will continue to add significant value to the Government of Ukraine, now enabled by the work of the Serhiy Prytula Charity Foundation.”

A Ukrainian venture capitalist and commercial space flight pioneer named Max Polyakov also reportedly played a role in negotiating the ICEYE deal for Ukraine’s armed forces.

Among many other items, the Serhiy Prytula Foundation has also purchased protective gear, drones, trucks, communication systems, and combat first aid training for Ukraine’s armed forces.

To fund the ICEYE satellite deal, the foundation tapped into a war chest of about $17 million raised during a three-day crowdfunding blitz in June to purchase three Turkish-made, armed Bayraktar TB2 drones. The Baykar company, maker of the Bayraktar, ultimately refused the foundation’s money and gave Ukraine’s armed forces the three drones for free.

Read Next: There’s No McPeace, But McDonald’s Reopens Some Ukraine Restaurants

Nolan Peterson is a senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine and the author of Why Soldiers Miss War. A former US Air Force special operations pilot and a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Nolan is now a conflict journalist and author whose adventures have taken him to all seven continents. In addition to his memoirs, Nolan has published two fiction collections. He lives in Kyiv, Ukraine, with his wife, Lilya.
More from Coffee or Die Magazine
A new Marine Corps physical training uniform will have shorter shorts than previous versions, but they won’t be as short as the long-banned, skin-tight, still-beloved “silkies.”
Not enough fuel, too many miles to go over open ocean, and the aircrew was flying into a spot they call the Black Hole.
During ferocious fighting in Anzio, Italy, Harold Nelson’s commander wrote to Nelson’s mother that he’d been put in for a Silver Star. Now 107, Nelson finally got it.
After a week of competition at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, four squads will travel to Washington, DC, for the last event of the Army-wide Best Squad competition — an interview panel with Pentagon leaders, including the sergeant major of the Army.
After more than seven months of full-scale warfare, Russian gas still flows through Ukraine to Europe each day.
A fleet of US Coast Guard and Army National Guard helicopters has descended on hurricane-ravaged Sanibel Island.
About one in five C-130s in the Air Force is out of service as older C-130Hs, which were first introduced in the 1970s, are grounded to have their propellers inspected.
The aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford will spend at least one more day in Virginia.
Ford’s technological glitches included propulsion problems, hinky elevators, and gremlins in the catapults.
Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 Vietnam War epic “Apocalypse Now” is one of the most recognizable war movies ever made, yet few fans are familiar with the insane story behind its production.