New Tech for Tracking “Dark Ships”

An illustration of HawkEye 360’s first satellite constellation, called Pathfinder, orbiting Earth. HawkEye 360/UTIAS Space Flight Laboratory

Back in November, SpaceX fired off a Falcon 9 Rocket with 64 satellites aboard. Among the 64, along with two for the Coast Guard to improve Arctic communications, were a cluster of three called Pathfinder, intended to look for emissions from vessels that would rather not have their location known, including pirates, smugglers, and particularly vessels engaged in Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated fishing. According to Business Insider,

“The trio of spacecraft belong to a startup called HawkEye 360, and they’re designed to “see” radio signals from space. The company’s software will take unique radio signals coming from ships to “fingerprint” vessels, track them over time, and even forecast future movements.”

Reportedly the satellites can detect and locate radio frequency signals of at least one watt, including satellite phones, push-to-talk radios, and marine radars.

“In addition to fingerprinting such vessels, HawkEye 360’s machine-learning algorithms will also be able to determine typical activity patterns for a ship and flag any unusual deviation. ”

“In the future, they aim to launch five more three-satellite clusters, which will create a constellation that can map Earth’s radio signals once every 30 to 40 minutes.”

There is more background in a gCaptain report here.

Supposedly, the results will be available commercially. Since the same software will also find military vessels I have to wonder if that data will be scrubbed before release?

Meanwhile MarineLink reports the US Coast Guard is teaming up with Global Fishing Watch to track illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported (IUU) fishing.

There is getting to be a lot of intelligence available, but are there platforms enough to exploit it all?


3 thoughts on “New Tech for Tracking “Dark Ships”

  1. An excellent post. I had not heard about this satellite experiment and I even remember watching that Falcon launch. I must have completely overlooked the secondary payload. If this is as effective as promised, it will be interesting to see how smugglers respond. It seems that there is always a countermeasure to be found.

    The Earth Observation Portal has a really nice technical summary of the platform.

  2. Pingback: A New Coast Guard Base In the Western Pacific? | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

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