Spies’ night eyes: Once-restricted tech is helping spot Russian troops, Chinese missile sites and raging wildfires

Todd Master has been spending a lot of time lately looking at the weather forecasts in Ukraine. He doesn’t need to meteorologically or militarily prepare — he lives safely in Santa Barbara, California. Instead, he wants to know whether satellites might be able to take good pictures of the besieged country that day. Those images can reveal details about the ongoing war with Russia that might otherwise be inaccessible to people thousands of miles away.

Satellite images of the Russian invasion revealed the miles-long military convoy near Kyiv, a new base in Crimea, bodies on streets, a bombed-out theater. But the total number of public, high-resolution pictures is low given how long the war has been going on. “It’s not because they’re not sharing all of them,” said Master, chief operating officer at a satellite company called Umbra. “It’s because those are the only really great ones.”

The reason? “It’s pretty much cloudy every day,” he said.


“It’s not that policy is driving commercial SAR investments or capabilities,” said Josef Koller of the Center for Space Policy and Strategy at the Aerospace Corporation. “It’s the other way around.”

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