Making the Invisible Visible through Radio Frequency Monitoring

Company prepares to launch its first three satellites

Geospatial analytics company HawkEye 360 will be launching three satellites, Hawk 1, Hawk 2 and Hawk 3, aboard Spaceflight’s first-ever dedicated rideshare mission, SSO-A: Smallsat Express. These pathfinder satellites mark HawkEye 360’s first space-based assets and will be instrumental as it begins building a full commercial constellation. The data collected from these satellites will be analyzed and turned into useful information for the company’s customers.


Making the Invisible Visible

Wireless technology is the foundation of modern society, used for things such as communication, navigation, and emergency response. Even though the radio frequency (RF) signals surround us, they are invisible to the human eye. HawkEye 360 has developed specialized satellites that measure the RF signals emitted by various devices to determine the types of objects and where they are located.  

In order to identify the location of a RF signal, HawkEye 360 has created a unique approach to flying its satellites. The satellites will orbit in clusters of three, positioned in relationship to each other, and maintain that orientation as they circle the Earth. By flying satellites in a cluster formation, HawkEye 360’s team will be able to see signals from multiple angles and triangulate where they are coming from.

The pathfinder satellites were built by UTIAS Space Flight Laboratories and utilize Deep Space Industries’ (DSI) water-based propulsion system. The system promotes “environmental stewardship,” says Grant Bonin, CTO at DSI, by enabling satellites to maneuver using water as the fuel rather than toxic or flammable chemicals. In addition, DSI’s propulsion systems allow satellites to deorbit at the end of their lifespans, appeasing concerns about planetary debris.

Broad Applications

Commercial space is introducing a variety of new innovations, often uncovering a larger need for the technology than expected.

“HawkEye 360 is a pioneer developing a new form of analytics built on RF data collected from space,” said Adam Bennett, product marketing director of HawkEye 360. “People didn’t understand the commercial demand for this data. The more we’ve explored how our data supports a variety of applications, the more we’re realizing how this information will benefit people.”

One industry that can benefit from this technology is the maritime sector. Most global trade is conducted through maritime shipping and each vessel has an automatic identifying signal (AIS) that continuously broadcasts for tracking purposes.

However, there are often gaps where the AIS signal isn’t received, meaning the tracking is lost. Or, sometimes ships deliberatively turn off their beacons, which may indicate they are engaged in illegal activities. But because so many devices aboard maritime vessels emit RF signals, HawkEye 360’s geospatial technology can still attempt to identify a vessel’s location.

This data will feed into HawkEye 360’s recently released SEAker™ product. SEAker is able to monitor the oceans, providing deeper insights about vessel traffic within a country’s economic zone of interest and detecting illicit activity such as smuggling and illegal fishing.

Launch Opportunities

As a young company, HawkEye 360’s team needed to focus their energy on the company’s core mission, which was developing the satellite payloads and the specialized data processing software necessary to extract value from RF data.

The team went looking for a launch partner who could simplify the launch process and minimize the effort HawkEye 360 spent getting the satellites into orbit.

“HawkEye 360 selected Spaceflight for its expertise and ability to assemble a rideshare mission at affordable prices. Spaceflight supported us through prep work, safety filings and approvals,” said Adam Bennett. “Additionally, Spaceflight is guiding the integration process, including creating the launch adapter ring and attachment for the pathfinder satellites, which has allowed our team to remain focused on completing and testing the satellites. HawkEye is pleased to be part of the SSO-A mission and looks forward to a successful launch.”

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