Ukraine Crowdfunded a $17M Reconnaissance SAR Satellite

Serhiy Prytula Charity Foundation signed a contract with ICEYE to provide the Government of Ukraine with the SAR reconnaissance data and full capabilities of one of ICEYE’s satellite already in orbit. The deal was closed with the money from the Foundation’s crowdfunding initiative.

The Crowdfunding

The story of this acquisition is rather interesting. Serhiy Prytula, who was a showman, comic and TV host before the war, has been doing a lot of volunteering to help Ukraine fight against Russia’s invasion. His charity foundation has been providing the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the people of Ukraine with humanitarian aid, supplies, armour, drones, communication equipment, cars, arms, etc. Most of it is bought from donations to Serhiy Prytula’s fund. During the war, the Foundation raised more than $53 million in donations. It is one of the biggest war effort charities in Ukraine. 

In June 2022 Serhiy Prytula’s Fund in cooperation with blogger Ihor Lachenkov ran the People’s Bayraktar project. Its goal was to raise money for Bayrakatar TB2 UAVs. The project raised over 600 million UAH, which corresponds to roughly $17 million. But Baykar, the manufacturer of Bayraktar TB2, decided to give three drones for free. Which left a lot of money to be spent elsewhere.

Earlier today Serhyi Prytula’s Foundation finally revealed that after consulting with the Ministry of Defence, they decided to use the money to buy a reconnaissance satellite from ICEYE. It will provide the Government of Ukraine with Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellite imaging capabilities, which should help defend their territories.

The SAR Satellites

ICEYE is a Finnish satellite company that provides SAR imaging of the Earth. They have 21 active satellites currently in orbit. The last batch of five was launched on May 25 as a part of a rideshare mission on a Falcon 9 rocket.

The satellites are quite small and light, about 92 kilograms each. They operate on 560-580 km sun-synchronous orbits with an inclination of 97.7 degrees. Each satellite makes 15 orbits per day. A sun-synchronous orbit practically means that a specific satellite makes an appearance over the same patch of land roughly at the same time every day. If you want more information and visualisation of how these kinds of orbits work, check out this video by Scott Manley.

Comparison of Scan, Strip and Spot modes. Image credit: ICEYE

ICEYE satellites have three modes of operation: Spot, Strip and Scan.

  • Spot Mode
    • Imaging area: 5 km x 5 km
    • Ground resolution: 1 m x 1 m
  • Strip Mode
    • Imaging area: 30 km x 50 km
    • Ground resolution: 3 m x 3 m
  • Scan Mode
    • Imaging area: 100 km x 100 km
    • Ground resolution: 15 m x 15 m
Close-up image of Evergiven cargo ship blocking the Suez Canal on March 25th, 20:50 local time. Showing the capabilities of Spot imaging mode. Image credit: ICEYE.

What makes ICEYE’s imaging capabilities so important for Ukraine right now is that they operate in microwave X-Band (9.65 GHz). This means that the images aren’t affected by clouds and can provide consistent data on areas of interest every day irrespective of the weather. Radar images also work equally well both in daylight and at night. All that, as you might guess, is kind of really important during the war. The land resolution of up to 1 meter is also important when imaging enemy forces and machinery.

The Deal

So, what exactly did Ukraine get for the $17M? The ICEYE’s press release states that Ukraine’s Armed Forces will get access to the data from the entire constellation of SAR satellites for a year. And ICEYE will also transfer full capabilities of one of its SAR satellites already in orbit for the Government of Ukraine’s use over the region. The satellite will still be operated by ICEYE though.

The ability to ‘buy the entire satellite’ is a service that ICEYE only started to offer very recently. They made a public announcement about it on June 28, less than two months ago. Not much has been disclosed in terms of clients, but it was announced that the Brazilian Air Forces (BAF) already bought 2 out of 5 satellites launched earlier in May.

It’s not clear which exact satellite Ukraine will own, but it looks like the Armed Forces will be able to set specific tasks and select imaging modes for their satellite and get the rest of the information from the rest constellation as is. All that comes in addition to all the other reconnaissance data that Ukraine’s Armed Forces already have access to.

This is not the first time the space industry gets involved in the war between Russia and Ukraine. Earlier this year SpaceX provided Ukraine with multiple Starlink dishes and started providing its service in the country. Unfortunately, for some Ukrainians Starlink is still the only mean of communication.

Now, when Ukraine crowdfunded a $17M satellite, what’s next? A Death Star?