Smallsats for Resilience, Connectivity and Insight

The smallsat segment will develop as a robust, affordable and pervasive architecture that can easily scale to address a wide range of human needs, says Alex Fox, Executive Vice President, HawkEye 360.

Meenal Dhande
Sr. Assistant Editor – Defense & Intelligence

Can you tell us a bit about HawkEye 360 in terms of the sectors it serves and the expansion plans?

HawkEye 360 is a leading commercial provider of Space-based radio frequency (RF) data and analytics. We use satellites flying in formation to detect, characterize and geolocate a broad range of RF signals. We primarily serve the defense, intelligence and homeland security sectors, and are working to expand into commercial shipping, insurance and communications markets. This expansion goes hand-in-hand with the growth of our satellite constellation and capabilities. We recently commissioned our first next-generation satellite cluster called ‘Cluster 2’, which has vastly superior collection capacity, RF frequency coverage and geolocation accuracy.

The smallsat segment offers flexible services through advanced data analysis and downlinks. How does HawkEye 360 provide the fastest services to its customers?

There are three key areas of focus — innovation, integration and capacity. We have the ability to quickly integrate proven, leading-edge technologies to meet customers’ needs. For defense and intelligence clients, timely, shareable, accurate tactical Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) is essential to their day-to-day activities. The threat environment is continually evolving and they need the ability to deliver new capability in months, not years. HawkEye 360 has, and continues to show how we can rapidly innovate and deliver new capabilities affordably and reliably.

We are integrating our products and services into existing client workflows. Many clients have tools and it is important for them to have a common trusted platform for their integrated intelligence needs. They need to operate the way they are trained; then need to focus on the mission and not the application.

Through the recent launch of Cluster 2 and through more next-generation satellite launches planned over the coming months, we are expanding our capacity to meet a wide range of requirements across the RF spectrum. This includes near persistent coverage over any area of the world, timely delivery of our data and analytics, and growing our signal library and product offerings based on the ongoing needs of our clients.

The threat environment is continually evolving, and the defense and intelligence clients need the ability to deliver new capability in months, not years

How do you think the smallsat segment and its services will develop in the coming years?

This segment will develop as a robust, affordable and pervasive architecture that can easily scale to address a wide range of markets. For example, we saw the shift from using mainframes to affordable clustered PCs as a new way to address the exponential growth needed for information systems to support an always-connected world in a high transaction environment. Smallsats offer a platform for expanding reach to every geography on the planet affordably and for a wide range of solutions. Smallsats and their associated support systems will become a pivotal layer of our global architecture and provide the resilience, connectivity and insights to connect, protect and enrich our lives.

Can you tell us about RF Data Explorer and Mission Space, and how will they benefit the geo-intelligence community?

For RF Data Explorer, we partnered with Esri to create an add-in for ArcGIS Pro. We co-developed RF Data Explorer to make it easy for Esri’s large userbase to access and integrate HawkEye 360 content into their existing workflows. This integration alongside other types of intelligence data provides a powerful capability to bring together multi-source data and analysis for more effective identification and understanding of key patterns of life. We believe this layer of RF intelligence is critical for understanding the environment and for using other types of satellites effectively. For example, our satellites can look at an area of view between 2,500-4,000 square kilometres, whereas other small satellites have a very small footprint. This makes HawkEye 360’s data extremely valuable for tip-and-cue strategies — quickly finding areas of unknown activity within a large area.

Mission Space is the first commercial platform purpose-built to facilitate the analysis of HawkEye 360’s RF geospatial intelligence. It operates in the Amazon Cloud, providing clients with the ability to visualize and identify patterns of life. Automated alerts are issued based on patterns and events important to our clients. Mission Space is the primary platform for providing clients access to our products and services as well as integrating non-HawkEye 360 intelligence sources into the visualization and analytics process. Because of its ease of use and purpose build functionality, it will accelerate user adoption of commercial RF geo-intelligence (GEOINT) across the global defense, intelligence, commercial and humanitarian sectors.

The busy Mediterranean Sea shipping corridor is readily visible in the first radio frequency signals collected by HawkEye 360’s new Cluster 2 satellites, showing the location of vessel X-Band, L-Band and VHF navigation and communication devices. The data is displayed in HawkEye 360’s Mission Space software over a Mapbox, OpenStreetMap and Maxar basemap

How do you think AI, Machine Learning, and Big Data will play into the development of Space 4.0?

Today and into the future, we all know there is more data and resulting derived intelligence than we have bandwidth to understand and respond to effectively. Big Data, AI and machine learning will be essential for creating trusted solutions for effective decision making.

For HawkEye 360, these elements are core to our success and that of our clients as we deploy our constellation to achieve near persistent coverage of the earth in the next five years. The raw signal data is too vast for a human to analyse. These tools are part of our plan to develop patterns of life we can detect and respond to, as well as identify unknown patterns that need to be assessed and possibly incorporated into our trusted knowledge corpus.

We are implementing AI/ML solutions to further streamline the decision process and our ability for the constellation to work intelligently as an entity and with other platforms. Additionally, we will see more on-board processing — satellites with cognitive capabilities that streamline the decision chain.

What is the role of GEOINT in the new Space race?

GEOINT is all about awareness of our environment, so that we can anticipate, understand and react to important changes in a responsive manner. The new Space race involves providing affordable, effective Space-based platforms that can collect and analyze our environment to enable proactive responses needed to achieve targeted outcomes. HawkEye 360 is a key part of the NewSpace ecosystem because we deliver a new layer of GEOINT that detects, characterizes and locates signals across land, air, sea and Space.

Our satellites can listen for signals across large areas and use this information to tip and cue collections by other satellites and systems which have limited area collections, such as imaging satellites. For example, we recently used our maritime data to detect the Chinese fishing fleet infringing on an exclusive economic zone near the Galapagos Islands. Without having the fleet’s geolocation, the chance of detecting this activity (or any mobile, unknown activity) using an imaging satellite is very small. Radio Frequency (RF) detection, characterization and geolocation (RF GEOINT) are key layers of the new Space race.

How will the Space industry help build a green economy?

By providing persistent insights, GEOINT providers are able to help people more effectively protect the environment, global security and the global commons, as well as provide greater transparency. For example, we have been working with a number of organizations to detect activities such as illegal fishing and poaching of wildlife.

What are the next steps for HawkEye 360?

Now that we proved our capabilities with our Cluster 1 satellites and launched the first of our next generation satellites with Cluster 2, it is all about scaling our business by providing more capacity, increased persistence, and delivery of high-impact intelligence that drives value for our investors and clients. We are working closely with our clients to continue to innovate and rapidly deliver new capability to meet the current and future needs.

All of these attributes require growing our amazing team and ensuring we maintain a culture where everyone can thrive using their skills, passion to learn, and relentless drive make a positive difference. Preserving our culture is a fundamental part of scaling our business.

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