The Polish concept of creating its own satellite constellation gained momentum in 2021, thanks to the Szafir competition. The aim of this competition was to award grants for research and development projects in the area of defence and state security. The broader context of the programme ‘Development of modern, cutting-edge technologies for National Security and Defence’ brought funding to the Military University of Technology for the implementation of 10 scientific research projects, six of which are led by WAT. In addition to researching areas such as optical technologies in quantum cryptology for data protection and the development of modular quantum computer infrastructure for special and military applications, there is also a project called PIAST, which is an acronym worth following. The Polish ‘ImAging SaTellittes’ initiative was started under the leadership of the WAT Institute of Optoelectronics and the WAT Department of Civil Engineering and Geodesy, and its results will eventually be received by the Ministry of National Defence.
The main objective of the PIAST project is to place three observation satellites in orbit around the Earth by 2024. In addition to WAT, the consortium comprises Creotech Instruments, the Space Research Centre of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Scanway and the Łukasiewicz Research Network (Institute of Aviation and PCO). An important milestone, according to a communiqué from Creotech, was reached in 2022, with the first of the four stages of the project, the ‘System Requirements Review’, completed in April. The others are the ‘Preliminary Design Review’, the ‘Critical Design Review’ and the ‘Flight Readiness Review’. In 2022, Minister of National Defence Blaszczak signed a contract for the delivery of two reconnaissance satellites by “Airbus Defence & Space” from France. Full control of these satellites is to be handed over by 2027, and access to imaging will be possible from the moment the contract comes into force. The Polish-French constellation also includes a ground station. The satellites under the Polish flag are an integral part of the larger constellation, allowing for efficient data processing.
This year saw the conclusion of an important agreement between the Polish Armaments Group (PGZ), Wojskowy Zakłady Łączności Nr 1 (WZŁ-1) and ICEYE Polska, a representative of the Finnish company ICEYE. Their project involves developing a constellation of radar satellites with synthetic apparatus and fixed and mobile radar stations for the military. This initiative announced at MSPO 2023 in Kielce, focuses on several phases of development of the constellation operated by ICEYE in integration with ground-based components. In line with last year’s declarations, the first phase envisages the launch of 2 to 4 satellites within 18 months of the decision, suggesting a potential future number of satellites. ICEYE also pledges to provide a full ground infrastructure for the Ministry of Defence, allowing Polish operators full control of the satellites and data. This means that the Polish Army will have 7-9 satellites or even more in the coming years.
Poland’s satellite landscape came into existence thanks to the first Polish satellite with dimensions of 100×100×113 mm and a mass of no more than 1.33 kg. The PW-Sat, which was developed at the University of Technology, was launched on 13 February 2012 during the first flight of the Vega rocket. Compared to the PIAST project, which involves the production of nanosatellites weighing around 10 kilograms, based on solutions from Creotech (HyperSat) with a total project value of PLN 70 million, the increasing pace of development of this industry can be seen. Satellites used by the military have the potential to be available for civilian purposes as well. The various satellite constellations offer a diversification of solutions. French satellites, for example, allow the acquisition of reconnaissance data in terms of imagery with an accuracy of up to 30 cm. Operating as part of a larger constellation allows coverage of a much larger area of the Earth than is possible for a single country and data synergies. Currently, Poland uses data from Italian radar satellites from the COSMO-SKyMed and second-generation COSMO-SkyMed constellations. However, changing atmospheric conditions poses a challenge. Each constellation offers different levels of resistance to information interference and unreadability of image data. Radar satellite systems, such as those developed by ICEYE, use SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar). A key advantage of this technology is the ability to produce images regardless of atmospheric conditions, cloud cover and time of day. The optical systems have a resolution of up to 25 cm and each of the planned satellites weighs around 120 kg. This means that there is a choice of different solutions depending on the needs and availability of the constellation, for both military and civilian purposes.
Satellite programmes significantly enhance a State’s defence capabilities. In the first instance, the ability to produce and maintain information superiority at the strategic level is a deterrent asset. The ability to detect in advance the manoeuvres of a single tactical compound or the development for assault of a grouping at the operational level and to take up starting positions for an assault is an indispensable element of the early warning subsystem, as evidenced by the warnings issued by the US government in relation to the threat of a new open kinetic-threat episode of the armed conflict between Ukraine and Russia in 2021. Satellite imagery plays an important role in the formulation of conclusions and the issuing of official government communications. The high quality resulting from good resolution and flexible resistance to weather interference also makes it possible to carry out independently the element of identifying targets and coordinating the guidance of means of destruction for the execution of a fire mission. Equally indispensable is the confirmation of the effectiveness of firing and target paralysis. The Polish Army’s modernisation programmes are definitely developing capabilities for beyond-the-horizon target striking and air dominance. Satellite constellations will perhaps favour long-range firing superiority and the currently fashionable network-centricity at various levels of combat. The indispensable tasks of the Polish Armed Forces include responding to threats in a broad sense. A separate equally interesting aspect will be the expansion of capabilities in the area of CIMIC (Civil-Military Co-operation) and participation of the Armed Forces in counteracting the effects of a natural disaster or performing tasks during a state of emergency.
 Górska, D. 10 projektów dla WAT w konkursie „SZAFIR” (en. 10 projects for WAT in the ‘SZAFIR’ competition ) https://www.wojsko-polskie.pl/wat/articles/aktualnosci-w/10-projektow-dla-wat-w-konkursie-szafir/ [accessed: 11.09.2023].
 Budowa polskiego satelity PIAST: osiągnięto pierwszy kamień milowy. (en. Construction of Poland’s PIAST satellite: the first milestone reached.) https://geoforum.pl/news/32218/budowa-polskiego-satelity-piast-osiagnieto-pierwszy-kamien-milowy [accessed: 11.09.2023].
 Projekt PIAST, czyli narodowe nanosatelity dla Wojska Polskiego. Rusza budowa. (en. Project PIAST, or national nanosatellites for the Polish Army. Construction begins.) https://space24.pl/bezpieczenstwo/projekt-piast-czyli-narodowe-nanosatelity-dla-wojska-polskiego-rusza-budowa [accessed: 11.09.2023].
 Satelity obserwacyjne wzmocnią zdolności rozpoznawcze Wojska Polskiego (en. Surveillance satellites will strengthen the Polish Army’s reconnaissance capabilities) https://www.gov.pl/web/obrona-narodowa/satelity-obserwacyjne-wzmocnia-zdolnosci-rozpoznawcze-wojska-polskiego [accessed: 11.09.2023].
 Polskie wojsko będzie miało własne satelity. (en. The Polish military will have its own satellites.) https://www.wnp.pl/przemysl-obronny/polskie-wojsko-bedzie-mialo-wlasne-satelity,748346.html [accessed: 11.09.2023].
 ICEYE: radarowa oferta dla Wojska Polskiego. (en. ) https://space24.pl/satelity/obserwacja-ziemi/iceye-radarowa-oferta-dla-wojska-polskiego [accessed: 11.09.2023] [title trans. ICEYE: a radar offering for the Polish Army.].
 Pasek, K., & Załuski, Ł. Pierwszy polski satelita. 13 lat temu roku rakieta Vega wyniosła na orbitę PW-Sat. (en. First Polish satellite. 13 years ago this year, a Vega rocket launched the PW-Sat.) https://www.national-geographic.pl/artykul/13-lutego-2012-roku-rakieta-vega-wyniosla-na-orbite-pierwszego-polskiego-satelite-pw-sat-230213085626 [accessed: 11.09.2023].
 Polskie konsorcjum opracuje nanostelity dla wojska. (en. Polish consortium will develop nanostelites for the military.) https://przemyslprzyszlosci.gov.pl/polskie-konsorcjum-opracuje-nanostelity-dla-wojska/ [accessed: 11.09.2023].
 Satelity obserwacyjne wzmocnią zdolności rozpoznawcze Wojska Polskiego. (en. Surveillance satellites will strengthen the Polish Army’s reconnaissance capabilities.) https://www.wojsko-polskie.pl/articles/tym-zyjemy-v/satelity-obserwacyjne-wzmocnia-zdolnosci-rozpoznawcze-wojska-polskiego/ [accessed: 11.09.2023].
 Francuskie satelity – lekarstwem na ślepotę polskiej armii [ANALIZA]. (en. French satellites – a cure for the blindness of the Polish army [ANALYSIS].) https://space24.pl/satelity/obserwacja-ziemi/francuskie-satelity-lekarstwem-na-slepote-polskiej-armii-analiza [accessed: 11.09.2023].
 ICEYE współpracuje z ukraińską armią. Czy polskie wojsko to miejsce dla nowych technologii? (en. ICEYE collaborates with the Ukrainian army. Is the Polish military the place for new technologies?) https://startup.pfr.pl/pl/aktualnosci/iceye-wspolpracuje-z-ukrainska-armia-wojsko-i-technologie/ [accessed: 11.09.2023].
 Wyrwał, M. Polskie satelity wskazują Ukrainie rosyjskie cele. Polska pozostaje bezbronne (en. Polish satellites point out Russian targets to Ukraine. Poland remains defenceless.) https://wiadomosci.onet.pl/tylko-w-onecie/polskie-satelity-wskazuja-ukrainie-rosyjskie-cele-polska-pozostaje-bezbronne/zs6mzb6 [accessed: 11.09.2023].
Tekst powstał w ramach realizacji zadania publicznego zleconego w ramach Rządowego Programu Rozwoju Organizacji Obywatelskich na lata 2018-2030 r. „Bezpieczna Polska jutra – rozwój działań misyjnych Alioth Foundation”.