HawkEye 360 to launch pirate-hunting satellites into orbit

HawkEye 360 is launching pirate hunting satellites into space.
Image: HawkEye 360

The realm of satellites no longer belongs to the government or large corporations. Thanks to affordable launches with private firms like SpaceX and Rocket Lab, startups and small organizations can send their payloads into orbit.

One of them, HawkEye 360, intends to do so at the end of the year. The satellite intelligence company will launch a trio of them aboard a SpaceX rideshare mission. Its new satellites will circle the Earth looking for pirates, poachers, and smugglers.

To Catch a Pirate

There are no Johnny Depp Jack Sparrows out on the seven seas today. Still, pirates are a major issue in some parts of the world. Perhaps more concerning are the poachers killing endangered animals or smugglers sneaking drugs across borders.

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HawkEye 360 is in the process of building an innovative platform to combat these issues. Its constellation of satellites monitors “RF signals from emitters like VHF marine radios, UHF push-to-talk radios, maritime radar systems, AIS beacons, L-band satellite devices, emergency beacons, and more.”

The startup then processes this data with custom algorithms to deliver actionable insights. HawkEye 360 has done some pretty impressive things already. CEO John Serafini says, “We’ve seen dark ship activity all over the globe and even analyzed Iran smuggling oil to Syria.”

Serafini adds, “We were able to identify a build-up of Chinese troops in the Galwan Valley, contributing deeper understanding about the heightened tensions occurring along the India/China border.”

He also says, “We’ve helped rangers in Garamba National Park monitor their vast landscape for wildlife poaching.”

The startup has had satellites in orbit since 2018. Its latest launch will double the size of its existing constellation, bringing the total number of satellites to six. Serafini says that increasing the number of satellites it has in operation helps HawkEye 360 better track down crimes from space.

In the days to come, the startup plans to bring its count up to 21. Doing so will help it decrease response times to certain areas. It also makes pinpointing the precise location of a signal easier.

“HawkEye 360’s investment to advance the field of space-based RF geoanalytics isn’t just about defense and intelligence missions, but it’s also about protecting our global commons by identifying and tracking illicit activities such as illegal fishing, human trafficking, and animal poaching,” says Serafini.

Team Player

Unlike the superhero with which HawkEye shares its name, the startup doesn’t actually intervene when it finds bad behavior. Instead, it partners with Earth-based agencies like the National Reconnaissance Office and the Pentagon to dole out justice.

The company has already had some success in its short lifespan. It said in a press release, “In just 18 months, our first cluster has tracked 20 million geolocations and signals of interest to feed growing demand from civil service and defense clients around the world.”

By tracking down those who would do wrong, HawkEye 360 is helping make the world a safer place. When its latest cluster of satellites launches later this year, it will be able to do so even more effectively.


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