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Leveraging Commercial Space for National Security, Economic Leadership

In order to boost the US commercial Space capabilities in the present and future, policies should be enacted to speed programming and budgeting cycles, streamline the export process, signal demand to capital markets, and integrate commercial capabilities into strategic planning, according to Kari Bingen, Chief Strategy Officer, HawkEye 360.

What is the size of the US Earth Observation sector, and how is it growing?

When the last national Space policy on commercial Remote Sensing was issued in 2003, there were just three high-resolution satellite imagery providers. Now, there are more than 119 licenses issued for more than 1,000 imaging satellites. Spurred by unprecedented private sector innovation and investment, the Earth Observation (EO) sector continues to not only grow at a rapid pace but also produce new capabilities that were once only achieved by governments ─ such as Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), Radio Frequency (RF) monitoring, and other phenomenologies.

At HawkEye 360, for instance, we are pioneering RF Remote Sensing and analytics that have never been commercially available. By detecting, characterizing and geolocating RF signals, we are able to gain insights into activities such as terrestrial force movements, nefarious maritime behavior, environmental damage, and more. This explosion of new technologies has broadened datasets available to analysts. In turn, there has been incredible growth in technologies that interpret and connect these datasets to actionable insights.

Can you list a few policies in the recent past that have boosted commercialization and democratization of EO data in the US?

It is important that the US government policies be crafted to unleash commercial innovation and promote our competitive advantage. Many sound policies have brought us to where we are today, but more bold action is needed to leverage commercial Space for national security, economic leadership, and environmental protection. The 2003 US commercial Remote Sensing Policy made it the policy of the government to “rely to the maximum practical extent on US commercial Remote Sensing Space capabilities” for both national security and civil needs. The 2021 National Defense Authorization Act advances many of the same principles. Now that economic factors like development and launch costs, which were limiting in 2003, have been cleared out of the way, commercial providers have become more capable of meeting the needs of both government customers and a broad array of commercial and international security interests.

To give an example of how this plays out at the level of an individual company ─ the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) initiated a study contract with HawkEye 360 in December 2019 to examine how the company’s RF data and analytics capabilities might serve the agency’s geospatial intelligence architecture. Joint activities like these can pave the way for further commercial integration down the road. To further boost the US commercial Space capabilities in the present and future, policies should be enacted to speed programming and budgeting cycles, streamline the export process, signal demand to capital markets, and integrate commercial capabilities into strategic planning.

Many sound policies have brought us to where we are today, but more bold action is needed to leverage commercial Space for national security, economic leadership, and environmental protection

Can you tell us about some emerging trends in the EO sector in terms of innovation and applications?

A few important trends that HawkEye 360 is a part of are the proliferation of smallsats, Data-as-a-Service (DaaS) model, use of Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), and the unclassified collection and analysis of data. Launching and commissioning clusters of smallsats allows HawkEye 360 to achieve more resilient, persistent global coverage and to innovate more quickly — all at lower cost. Next, a DaaS model allows our government and national security clients to meet their requirements affordably and allows customers in new industries, such as environmental protection, to leverage our capabilities as needed. In effect, we are democratizing access to this layer of intelligence.

Machine Learning is an essential key to unlocking a future in which EO, SAR, and RF data become more commoditized. The RF signal data we collect is far too voluminous for traditional analytics, and so we must rely on ML and AI to quickly derive actionable insights. By automating certain layers of analysis, we free up valuable human analysts and enable our RF insights to be seamlessly integrated into multi-INT analysis, amplifying its usefulness. Lastly, with our unclassified and shareable data and analysis, we are opening new pathways to cooperation with our allies and partners and giving policymakers and diplomats greater options for bringing transparency.

Can you tell us about your company’s current area of operations and business direction?

HawkEye 360 operates an expanding constellation of satellites that detect, characterize and geolocate RF signals, which are powerful indicators for understanding human activity on earth. Ultimately, we would like to achieve near-persistent monitoring of RF activity, cementing our leadership in this field and providing meaningful insights to human activity across the globe. Many electronic systems, such as marine radios, land-based radar systems and satellite communications devices generate RF signals. Our custom analytics capabilities and purpose-built analytics platforms distill data from these signals into actionable insights.

Some of the sample applications include spotting illegal fishing activity, detecting wildlife poaching operations, and finding maritime oil smuggling operations. In the course of these efforts, we have worked with national security entities and small-scale environmental protection organizations across industries and continents. We are now working to scale the business: we have three clusters of three satellites each currently on orbit and have seven additional clusters fully funded and slated for launch over the next year-and-a-half. Each additional cluster will carry new innovations to meet customer requirements, increase our collection capacity, and lower our revisit rate.

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