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Commercial imaging satellites prove their military worth in the Ukraine War

Capitalism in space: Because of the ability of private commercial satellites to obtain high resolution reconnaissance and radar images of the ground quickly, U.S. intelligence agencies decided right before the Russian invasion of the Ukraine to not only use those satellites, but to funnel that data both to the public and to the Ukraine.

“We partner with over 100 companies, we’re currently using imagery from at least 200 commercial satellites and we have about 20 or so different analytic services in our pipeline,” David Gauthier, director of commercial and business operations at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), said during a panel discussion at the 37th Space Symposium. “Because of all that, when Russia prepared to invade, we and the NRO [National Reconnaissance Office] increased and accelerated several efforts that were underway commercially,” said Gauthier.

The daily flow of intelligence that previously was only available from government sources and seldom released to the public is no accident, said Gauthier. “This moment has really been set up by a lot of hard work by many companies and many in the government to prepare ourselves to take better advantage of commercial capabilities.”

Leading up to the conflict, he said, “we more than doubled the commercial electro-optical imagery that was bought over Ukraine.” Imagery from companies like Maxar, BlackSky and Planet “was able to flow directly to those who need it, EUCOM [U.S. European Command], NATO and directly to Ukrainians,” Gauthier said.

The military’s increased reliance on reconnaissance imagery from these private commercial satellite constellations during this war is likely to accelerate the military’s switch from building its own big and expensive government satellites — which also launch rarely and provide little redundancy — to using the private sector for its needs.

In other words, the success of the private sector in this area during this war has once again proved the validity of the recommendations in my 2017 policy paper, Capitalism in Space [pdf].

The government should stop being a builder and instead become merely a customer. Let competing private companies do the work. Not only will the government get what it needs faster and for far less, the competition will fuel innovation and prosperity for the American people.

Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


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Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95; Shipping cost for either: $5.00). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.


  • Lee S

    Even lil’ old socialist me has nothing but agreement here Bob… government must be held responsible for their spending… much like a publicly listed company are bound by law to maximise profits for the shareholders, government should be bound to maximise benefits to the tax payers who fund the whole system.

    We are no doubt at loggerheads regarding what those benefits are, but what you guys call “pork” should be cut out , even called out as illegal. The rise of the private space industry is making it harder and harder for NASA to justify its job creation programs… the money yet to be spent on SLS would be much better spent helping NASA employees involved find new jobs, and would no doubt have plenty left over for the stuff NASA is excellent at..

    And the rise of private space won’t just help the USA, there is a lot of the rest of the world with time, talent and treasure invested in the new space movement… a rising tide lifts all ships…

  • Alex Andrite

    yep ….. ” in the new space movement… a rising tide lifts all ships…”
    Then the crew needs to know what to do.
    Ebb tide gets them out of the harbor though,
    If they know what to do. … and if I have my tides correct …..

  • Col Beausabre

    I wonder if any commercial birds can match the capabilities of a KH-11, Misty or Lacrosse

  • pzatchok

    I wonder of the US government still limits the resolution of the optics on those private birds.

    And if they do I bet they wish they hadn’t.

  • Alton

    Well from memory, I believe that the olde French Spot System had a higher resolution than the USA first systems of the 1960s, during the Cuban Missile Crisis.; the film from Corona Birds reentered and was caught mid air by C-119 Air Force Cargo aircraft.
    You could say that was the grandmother of Elon Musk’s Drone Fairings recovery fleet..
    Done without fancy GPS…… radar systems of today, that are a Wonder too…….

    Note the NRO, using U2 and Corona Satellite data had a hard time fixing and providing the locations of Soviet ICBM’S and Air Force Bases and Navy Piers to the United States Nuclear Strike Effort.
    The Soviets had purged all detailed data on their nations cartographic locations from the World’s access. The problem was solved when researchers found an ancient copy of the bench mapping in Britian of the Russian Trans-Siberian railway. The. Wooden towers used to mark and calculate the railways right of way done by a British mapping engineers were still standing in some form, thus allowing the accurate fixing of missile launching pads by NRO.

  • sippin_bourbon

    “government should be bound to maximise benefits to the tax payers who fund the whole system.”

    No. Government should be bound not to spend money it does not need to spend. It should be bound to enable people to provide for themselves, not be the provider. They should be bound to take the minimum amount of taxes they need. They should be bound not to invent new benefits for the sake of winning votes for their party.

  • sippin_bourbon

    Between commercial imaging and commercial communication (Starlink), things are changing fast. Opposing government sats we’re always going to be targets, but add in commercial, we are reaching a point where there is no way they could eliminate all the sats quickly.

    Until the paradigm shifts again to counter these new capabilities.

  • Star Bird

    When can we start sending Democrat Liberals into Deep Space aboard the S.S. Botony Bay? Sleeper Ship?

  • pzatchok

    I am all for leaving the eco religion folks behind on Earth and the rest of us leaving. They will live like native Americans in tents and protect the environment at all costs.

    Put the liberals on Mars and the Moon and the right thinking peoples going to the stars.

    This way everyone gets everything they want.
    No liberal has ever gone out and started a nation.

  • Best to keep a few phone sanitizors around, just in case.

    No liberal has ever gone out and started a nation
    There’s a definition bomb if there ever was one. Only a few decades ago, most of America would have disagreed with that, holding up the Founding Fathers as a counter example. I still disagree, but I’d hold up the French and/or Russian revolutions as counter examples, depending on how far Left one’s definition of “liberal” has drifted.

  • pzatchok

    By the modern definition of liberal…….

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