In a move which has potentially significant consequences for Australia and its security in the broader Indo-Pacific region, US radio frequency data analytics company HawkEye 360 has awarded a contract to manufacture its next generation of satellites.
HawkEye 360 is the first commercial company to use formation flying satellites to identify, process, and geolocate a broad set of radio frequency signals. Using proprietary algorithms to fuse multiple data sources, HawkEye 360 is providing commercial solutions to what has traditionally been the preserve of a select group of Government agencies.
The next generation of satellites can geolocate more signals, increase revisit rate, reduce latency, and boost capacity to meet the growing demand.
The global demand for more powerful analytical products is accelerating to provide increased maritime domain awareness and spectrum mapping and monitoring, with opportunities now opening for commercial entities with the financial backing of venture capital and a growing number of international customers.
The improvement to maritime domain awareness in the region would be made through the delivery of a geospatial data layer not previously available commercially, which is the precise mapping of radio frequency emissions. This data source feeds radio frequency analytics to reveal patterns of activity and provide new insights, with vessel location now being determined from X-band navigation radars or VHF maritime radios, among others, rather than relying on self-reported beacons such as AIS.
HawkEye 360 raised US$70m (A$102m) financing in August 2019 which is allowing the expansion from three to eighteen satellites, thereby achieving routine revisits of less than an hour for increased global persistence.
In a company release, HawkEye 360 CEO John Serafini said, “After proving the value and accuracy of our first satellites and securing the Series B investment, we are now quickly scaling our business to support customer demand. These next-generation satellites will improve our capabilities and expand our constellation for faster revisit rates, which translates into better insights for a safer world across maritime, air, and land domains.”
Since precise satellite formation flying is a key element for accurately geolocating emitters, HawkEye 360 awarded the contract to the Space Flight Laboratory (SFL), a unit within the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS). SFL will manufacture the satellite bus and integrate the new RF payload developed by HawkEye 360.
Founder and CTO of HawkEye 360 Chris DeMay said, “We selected SFL for both its expertise and flight heritage. Their innovative work designing our current satellites met all technical objectives, including reliably conducting formation flying manoeuvres. Now, SFL will help us bring this next stage of the constellation to completion.”
As Australia develops its space industry, announcements such as these point to the wide range of opportunities beyond the manufacture of platforms and payloads, with integration, analytics, automation and the establishment of a ground station architecture being key enablers for enhanced maritime domain and global spectrum awareness.
Moreover, the collection of sophisticated radio frequency data and the subsequent analytics outside of arrangements such as the Five Eyes security relationship, means data can potentially be shared with other partners in the Indo-Pacific region especially in relation to non-core military roles, such as Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Response (HADR) and anti-piracy operations, when the rapid demand for situational awareness outstrips the supply of surveillance and intelligence capabilities.