back to article Maxar Technologies: The eye in the sky tracking invasion of Ukraine

As Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, the name Maxar has suddenly taken on more significance with detailed eye-in-the-sky images of military movements on the ground being passed to media – including a 40-mile convoy headed for Kyiv. But what is Maxar, and where did it come from? There are a number of commercial satellite …

  1. alain williams Silver badge

    Eye in the sky until blinded

    Would Putin be able to blind it by pointing a powerful laser at it ?

    Do the satellites have some protection to stop the cameras being so burned out ?

    Does Putin care ? As long as he controls the media in Russia it does not matter what sky eyes tell the rest of the world.

    1. trevorde Silver badge

      Re: Eye in the sky until blinded

      Putin DGAF!

      1. JassMan Silver badge

        Re: Eye in the sky until blinded

        Putin – DGAF!khuylo! <-- FTFY

        Even has its own wiki page as you can see.

      2. decentralised

        Re: Eye in the sky until blinded

        PUTIN - FOAD!

    2. Malcolm Weir Silver badge

      Re: What's the problem?

      Blinding electro-optical satellites is harder than one might think:

      1. the sensors need to be able to survive inadvertent glare of reflected sunlight. Yes, this is not the same as a targeted attack, but they have some protection.

      2. They move quite fast (relative to a point on Earth), and the sensor is quite small. So to effectively dazzle, you either need to track the bird very closely (and hope that atmospheric effects don't mess up your focus), or dump enormous amounts of power into your laser, which is easier said than done!

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: What's the problem?

        Just a note on the sensors.

        These aren't cameras taking a picture as you would think.

        They are linear sensors that sweep over the ground, like a scanner on a document each capturing a different colour.

        So you get a red image slightly ahead of the green image etc and then stitch them together. That's why you sometimes see a rainbow image of some fast moving plane, because it has shifted relative to the ground between the captures.

        It also means the point on the ground each pixel is imaging is moving quite fast, it takes about 90mins to do a lap of Earth at LEO

        1. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

          Re: What's the problem?

          Sats can also use 2D sensors for linear sweeps. The redundant captures improve dynamic range.

      2. Androgynous Cow Herd

        Re: What's the problem?

        why go after the optics when the El Reg article points out that the gyroscope is a point of failure?

        Would would a shockwave from a burst in the vicinity do to a gyroscope d'yathink?

        1. JassMan Silver badge
          Trollface

          Re: What's the problem?

          In space no one can hear you scream. Ergo no shockwave since shockwaves are are compression of the local fluid. I think it would take a piece of shrapnel to disturb the gyros, but even there surely satellites are designed to withstand micro-meteor impacts.

        2. ravenviz Silver badge

          Re: What's the problem?

          What it is taking photos of is shocking enough.

          Just as well P*tin cannot bend the laws of physics as well!

    3. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Eye in the sky until blinded

      Any attack on a US satellite would have to be by the Russian military and would, therefore, be considered an act of aggression and the US has definitely got the capability to react and take out Russian satellites, which it almost certainly depends upon for support at the moment.

      Some kind of conflict is almost inevitable at some point, but Russia certainly doesn't want to draw NATO in yet: the last thing it wants is a no-fly zone.

      1. Wellyboot Silver badge

        Re: Eye in the sky until blinded

        It's not inevitable that NATO gets drawn in, Russia has numerous ships delivering everything from bullets to SAM missiles* into North Vietnam during that war. The US navy could have easily have stopped or sank them but that would have started a wider war.

        During their Afgan campaign, Russia didn't do anything overtly to stop the pack mules bringing weapons** into country before they crossed the Af/Pak border because that would have also risked a wider war.

        As brutal as it sounds, keeping the shooting within Ukraine is the main focus of both NATO and Russia now, but it's the Ukrainian peoples willingness to fight and die for their country until the Russians give up that matters*** (just like the Afgans).

        *which were being used directly against the US military.

        ** which were being used directly against the Russian military.

        ***the rising body count will become known sooner or later

        1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Re: Eye in the sky until blinded

          Ukrainian peoples willingness to fight and die for their country…

          Yes, but as with Afghanistan and the "tribal areas" in Pakistan, there are people outside the country who are also willing and able. If the conflict moves west towards the Polish or Slovakian borders, or south towards Romania, the risk of targetting suppliers on the other side of the border in a NATO country will rise. There is also the risk of an uprising in Belorussia, where Lukashenko is only just keeping a lid on things.

          And the long term aim of Putin to establish at least a land corridor to Königsberg if not reinvade the Baltic countries.

          And you can also be pretty sure that the CIA, et al. are looking at the Caucuses and beyond, with Putin's troops so widely spread: there's resentment against Moscow from their to Siberia.

          Wars are always messy and escalation is almost always inevitable.

  2. KarMann
    Coat

    Phase 2

    The eye in the sky tracking invasion of Ukraine
    I can only assume it's going to have to be called The Alan Parsons Project.

    1. TeeCee Gold badge
      Coat

      Re: Phase 2

      You fool! Your Alan Parsons Project will be destroyed by my high altitude, metallo-lepidopterous strike craft, which have a 100% kill rate in testing.

      Yes! My Iron Butterfly is indeed a one hit wonder.

  3. Eclectic Man Silver badge

    Image quality

    With my tinfoil hat firmly on, the superb quality of the Maxar images only make me wonder what sort of images the current up to date spy satellites can manage. They can probably tell what sort of knot I use to tie my shoelaces.

    1. Vulch

      Re: Image quality

      They're not hugely better. The USA limits commercial image providers to 30cm resolution, but when you get down to 15cm resolution atmospheric effects start blurring the results. That's one reason photo-reconnaisance from aircraft still has a place, less atmosphere to peer through.

      1. Norman Nescio Silver badge

        Re: Image quality

        I'll link back to a previous posting of mine which links to source documents, but the Keyhole series of satellites can theoretically resolve 'to a ground sample distance of 0.06 m (6 cm, 2.4 inches).'

        https://forums.theregister.com/forum/all/2021/03/12/hubble_bork/#c_4221392

        That's diffraction limited. To do better, either you need to orbit lower, or have a larger aperture (mirror). You also have to hope the seeing is good, as the atmosphere smears things out.

        If/when Musk's starship becomes operational, I expect the US could, if wanted, loft some devices with larger optics. Starship's diameter is 9 meters, which allows for a payload comfortably larger than the Keyhole (and Hubble) mirror size of 2.4 metres. For comparison, Maxar's Worldview-3 has an aperture of 1.1 metres and orbits at an altitude of about 620 km compared to Keyhole's 250 km closest approach, but claims a ground resolution of up to 31 cm.

        The infamous image of the failed Iranian rocket launch tweeted by then-President Trump is reckoned to have been acquired bythe USA-224 KH-11 satellite and to have a resolution of at least 10cm per pixel.

        1. Eclectic Man Silver badge
          Joke

          Re: Image quality

          "To do better, either you need to orbit lower, or have a larger aperture (mirror)."

          So, just thinking out loud here you understand, suppose one could launch a telescope into space with a multi-segment mirror, the size of, say a tennis court, which could then be unfolded and, using adaptive optics, ensure that each component was the correct shape, and then point it down.* Would that help?

          *There is nagging feeling at the back of my head, almost like I've heard of this sort of thing before...

          1. Persona Silver badge

            Re: Image quality

            The only problem would be that a suitable orbit for such a beast would be 1.5 million kilometers further out so the resolution would be comparatively terrible.

      2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Re: Image quality

        If telescopes pointing up can use adaptive optics to reduce atmospheric effects, you can bet that military kit pointing down was doing it first.

    2. Bitsminer Bronze badge

      Re: Image quality

      But not at night.

      Or when it is cloudy, or raining.

      Or if your shoelace and related items are obscured by smoke.

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Image quality

        Or if you're wearing slipons…

        1. Eclectic Man Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: Image quality

          For the record, I use a reef knot (math. square knot*)with a bow, after I discovered that a granny knot* with bow kept coming undone too easily.

          You may now train your satellite telescopes elsewhere.

          *"In knot theory, the square knot is a composite knot obtained by taking the connected sum of a trefoil knot with its reflection. It is closely related to the granny knot, which is also a connected sum of two trefoils." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Square_knot_(mathematics)

          (Ph.D. knowledge icon as I'm referring to serious higher mathematics about knot theory.)

          1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

            Re: Image quality

            I'm OCD enough to have taught myself how to tie a reef knot on my dressing gown for the same reason. But haven't yet learned how to tie shoelaces that resist bows (I believe it's to do with the direction of the twist)…

            1. Eclectic Man Silver badge
              Happy

              Re: Image quality

              The trick is to ensure the knot itself is tight, rather than the laces being too tight. In the reef / square knot, you go either 'left over right then right over left', or 'right over left then left over right'. With a. 'granny knot', it is 'left over right and left over right again' or 'right over left then right over left'. I don't understand the mechanics of it all but the granny knot is always looser than the reef knot.

              Incidentally, if you tie a proper bow tie, use the reef knot, as with a granny knot the bow is wonky and you look like an idiot, instead of the suave, sophisticated 'man of action' that is you true destiny.

              1. Richard 12 Silver badge

                Re: Image quality

                The granny knot twists as it is tugged, causing it to loosen - while also becoming more difficult to untie.

                The reef knot lies flat and does not deform.

              2. ravenviz Silver badge

                Re: Image quality

                Try a double fishermans knot if you don’t want it to come undone, even when you want it to!

              3. Charlie Clark Silver badge

                Re: Image quality

                The trick is to ensure the knot itself is tight, rather than the laces being too tight.

                Of course, tying laces with a bow is something slightly different. But I have observed with some shoes that no matter how tight I make the bow, it tends to come undone. This is invariably with round laces and I'm fairly sure that the "right over left" stuff has to take the way the laces are twisted into consideration, just that I've never figured it out myself!

                1. Eclectic Man Silver badge
                  Boffin

                  Re: Image quality / Shoelaces

                  This has been an object of discussion in the Register's rival publication 'New Scientist':

                  Warning, you may need a subscription to read several articles.

                  https://www.newscientist.com/lastword/mg25133541-100-what-is-the-best-way-to-tie-shoelaces/

                  https://www.newscientist.com/article/2127689-physics-of-shoelaces-shows-why-they-come-undone-when-you-run/

                  https://www.newscientist.com/lastword/mg22129601-200-its-not-the-knot/

                  1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

                    Re: Image quality / Shoelaces

                    ta, but for all your shoelace knot needs it's nice to know there is a website dedicated to them. Of course, there is.

          2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

            Re: Image quality

            If I want my shoelaces to stay tied (e.g. on walking boots or running shoes), I find the easiest way to do so is to tie a normal bow and then tie the loops into an overhand knot. That way, it's still easy to undo.

    3. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Image quality

      You can also assume that the images are provided with the consent and maybe even at the behest of the US military: they're for domestic consumption around the world to counter any suggestion by Russian trolls that it's just another training operation and that Ukrainians are welcoming them with garlands of flowers.

      If Russia really is relying on convoys then it's asking for people to take pot shots.

      1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

        Re: Image quality

        "If Russia really is relying on convoys then it's asking for people to take pot shots."

        My guess is that the Russians are happy for a 40+km convoy of armour to be photographed as it is intended to invoke terror or awe in the Ukrainian defenders and persuade them of the hopelessness of their situation. Of course it might also mean the defenders are all the more determined, and the suppliers of anti-tank weapons might just get more determined to send even more and most effective weapons.

        We can only hope that the destruction ends as soon as possible with minimal loss of life.

        1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Re: Image quality

          The Russian communication strategy suggests they're not at all happy with the US being so open about the Russian military: it's a crime to report anything about the war that is not sanctioned by the military.

          The convoys weren't supposed to be necessary but they got off to a bad start and kept getting ahead of their supply lines.

          1. Wellyboot Silver badge

            Re: Image quality

            Well, invading a country with a large collective knowledge of partisan warfare tactics wasn't going to be easy. Pity the poor Russian truck drivers spending hour after hour driving only a few metres from the forest edge.

            1. Stoneshop Silver badge

              Re: Image quality

              It may well turn out that "Never get into a land war in Asia" even applies to Putin. And the USSR didn't do too well in Afghanistan earlier.

              1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

                Re: Image quality

                It may well turn out that "Never get into a land war in Asia" even applies to Putin. And the USSR didn't do too well in Afghanistan earlier.

                But Ukraine is in Europe, not in Asia (it is west of the Urals and north of the Black Sea).

                1. Stoneshop Silver badge

                  Bah

                  ruining my quip with facts.

                2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

                  Re: Image quality

                  Very true. I think the real point may be about the length and number of fronts and being able to keep them all supplied. Oh, and having clearly defined and obtainable objectives.

                  The Russian strategy seemed to be about splitting Ukrainian forces between the east and the centre, seizing Kiev and installing a puppet government. As strategies go there's a hint of the underpant gnomes in this one, just as there was when the US went into Baghdad.

                  The front will get longer and may soon include parts of Belorussia and Georgia and elsewhere. At the same time, the limits of kleptocracy are starting to be felt in parts of the economy vital to keeping the army supplied.

                  1. Eclectic Man Silver badge
                    Trollface

                    Re: Image quality

                    I have heard that some of the food supplied to Russian soldiers was 7 years past the eat by date. It could not possibly be that corruption has affected the procurement of supplies to the Russian army, could it? Or that someone over-estimated the number of kilometres per litre (or more likely litres per kilometre) that a Russian battle tank can manage? I mean that is the sort of thing only a decadent Western organisation like, VW* would do, isn't it?

                    The trouble with corruption at the state level is that stealing from the state means the state is less able to do the things that the state wants to do, like feed the population, maintain water supplies or win a war (sorry, Special Military Activity).

                    *VW emissions scandal: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volkswagen_emissions_scandal

                    Troll icon, because, well, it did seem like a good idea at the time

                    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

                      Re: Image quality

                      Corruption and inefficiency are part of the Russian system. They're usually balanced by a huge area, seeminly limitless resources and a pliant population. So, even when things don't succeed initially you either wait for more to come along or, if necessary, retreat far enough so your enemy now has the problem. Then you bomb the shit out of them.

                      In this context, wastefulness is just a means to an end. The playbook for Ukraine is, unfortunately, likely to be similar to Chechyna: bomb and blow everything up and give the winning warlords carte blanche.

        2. Peter2 Silver badge

          Re: Image quality

          My guess is that there is simply bugger all that the Russians can do about it; happy or unhappy. They can't shoot the satellite down, they can't jam it, and it's obvious that diplomatic complaints whining about it are going to be filed in the round filing cabinet under the diplomats desk.

          Also with bridges blown and side routes blocked by burning tanks that have eaten a guided anti tank rocket from a ditch a mile away those tanks and trucks are largely sitting still with little forwards progress. It's two degrees out there, so the stationary resupply convoys are probably sitting there with the engine on to keep warm, and so still burning through fuel while not making forwards progress. Which means you need to resupply the resupplies with fuel, and so on ad infinitum.

          1. Wellyboot Silver badge

            Re: Image quality

            Which is why the fuel trucks are target #1 for any small teams left behind to cause problems with a big box full of RPGs, they're not brilliant against a modern MBT but anything else is toast.

  4. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    MDA - Canada Arm

    Not really it's space robotics arm

    MDA is a Canadian Satelite company that does similar RadarSats

    It got blocked from a lot of US military business cos Canadians are a bunch of no-good-commie-hippies but the Canadians wouldn't let MDA be bought by Americans because they are a bunch of pickup-driving-redneck-Nazis

    So there was a deal where they sort of pretend-merged so they could each wave the right flag to their prosepective governments.

    They then untangled when everyone came to their senses (and sensors)

  5. Rustbucket

    Private Satellite Imagery

    Here's a recent article from IEEE Spectrum magazine, with examples.

    https://spectrum.ieee.org/commercial-satellite-imagery

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I've had some fascinating conversations with the Satellite Applications Catapult about the imaging capabilities now available off the shelf. Mostly in the visual range, which is not necessarily that useful for my own needs... But it is surely only a matter of time.

    The competition is stiff - helicopter and/or aircraft mounted sensors can do the same job I need more or less on demand, rather than waiting for a satellite with the right sensor to fly over the area of interest.

    But a shared pool of satellite resources with the right capability might be net cheaper than everyone and his dog calling up said aircraft.

  7. JimmyPage

    Why has the last week reminded me

    of SDI ("Star Wars") from the 80s.

    Incidentally, the problem was always hitting something going at that speed and trajectory - same applies today regarding "blinding" satellites.

    1. Binraider Silver badge

      Re: Why has the last week reminded me

      Nothing a good EMP blast couldn't sort out!

      1. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

        Re: Why has the last week reminded me

        When Musk was talking about using his Starlink network over Ukraine, I was wondering if we'd see Putin shooting them down, resulting in the two richest men in the world having a war in space. Then I would know the future is finally here.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Why has the last week reminded me

          Musk presses the red Software Update button in his secret Bond villain cubicle and all Teslas sprout a gun and begin self-driving toward Moscow

          1. Stoneshop Silver badge

            Re: Why has the last week reminded me

            all Teslas sprout a gun and begin self-driving toward Moscow

            Touting guns while advancing on Moscow has failed twice[0] already.

            [0] quite likelly more often, but those two are the more memorable ones and widely known in the West.

            1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              Re: Why has the last week reminded me

              >Touting guns while advancing on Moscow has failed twice[0] already.

              But those were government projects

              This will be a gig-economy, Web3.0, private-sector invasion and so will be much more efficient - (like Hyperloop)

            2. A.P. Veening Silver badge

              Re: Why has the last week reminded me

              To succeed with advancing on Moscow, history recommends doing so from the east and without guns. Some Mongolian upstart named Temüjin managed it.

              Alternatively, you fly to Moscow and land in the Red Square like Mathias Rust.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Why has the last week reminded me

                Nah, you can also do it from the West and bring some guns, they just have to be somewhat lower-tech.

  8. Paul_Murphy

    Crytome.org

    I thought I might take a look at https://www.cryptome.org/ to see what they might have on the Ukraine, but it seems to SNAFU.

    ----------------------------------------

    Secure Connection Failed

    An error occurred during a connection to www.cryptome.org. Peer reports it experienced an internal error.

    Error code: SSL_ERROR_INTERNAL_ERROR_ALERT

    The page you are trying to view cannot be shown because the authenticity of the received data could not be verified.

    Please contact the web site owners to inform them of this problem.

    Learn more…

    ----------------------------------------

    Has it been taken off-line and I have missed the news?

    1. MacroRodent

      Re: Crytome.org

      Wonder if the site just has not been updated to modern tech? These days browsers disable TLS 1.0 and 1.1

      1. Paul_Murphy

        Re: Crytome.org

        Thanks, it came back after a little wait so probably just a glitch.

    2. Paul_Murphy

      Re: Crytome.org

      Never mind, it's back now.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Crytome.org

        Have you noticed how long it takes the Matrix to restart these days ?

  9. John 104

    " I am perpetual, I keep the country clean...."

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