Imagine a maritime vessel, with its location signal deliberately turned off, engaged in a smuggling rendezvous. Or a camp of illegal miners operating undetected, under the cover of night in remote Africa.
Many of the world’s criminal activities go unnoticed with perpetrators using the world’s geographic vastness as their camouflage.
That’s the unfair advantage HawkEye 360 is addressing head on.
“The radio waves are the starting point,” says Adam Bennett, the company’s vice president of marketing. “You look for the activity that you find on the ground and you flag the things that are of interest. … A big part of our data set is the opportunity to provide an early warning of what might be happening in the world.”
What’s So Valuable About RF?
“It’s not like … a plant is giving off many radio waves, right?” Adam asks. “But people do. … it's really uniquely tied to human civilization.”
In other words: If you see RF activity, you know people are there. And if you’re seeing an uptick in activity where it’s not expected, “that, then, is useful information that people can use to make decisions about the world and better optimize resources, track the environment, prevent bad things from happening,” Adam says.
HawkEye 360, Adam says, is “the first company that put satellites into orbit to focus on radio waves and look for all the radio wave activity that might be occurring around the globe.”
And the applications of this global data are both far-reaching and deeply consequential.
What Human Activity Can Tell Us
“When we look at our data sets, we start to see patterns of activity—the warnings, the flags,” Adam says. “And we can pinpoint that.”
Based on these observations, clients can then take action.
“A lot of our customers are various groups within governments that care about monitoring their environment, their areas, the seas that surround the countries,” Adam says. He cites illegal fishing and smuggling as activities that such entities might be interested in monitoring.
For non-governmental clients, Adam says, HawkEye 360’s data is useful in myriad ways. Nonprofits can keep track of resource use and environmental impacts. Shipping and insurance companies can keep tabs on their assets and “our data … can provide better visibility to them about what’s occurring.”
“And then you’re able to bring other assets to bear,” such as earth imaging satellites, Adam says. “Or even … maybe send out a Coast Guard vessel or a UAV. You can actually send physical objects, then, to those locations and determine the reality.”
The Collection: Wide Lens, More Data
With most other forms of EO data, including most forms of visual data, the total observable area for one satellite is by necessity fairly small. But because HawkEye 360 is collecting RF data, the company isn’t dealing with such constraints.
“The beauty of this data is you get this large overall survey: What’s happening in that region?” Adam says. “We can collect the data over thousands of kilometers wide. That allows us to see an entire ocean at once.”
And since the observed area for each satellite is so vast, these satellites are able to capture observances more often. “In fact, often we can collect a dozen times a day or more over a region,” Adam says. “So, every couple hours you’re getting another data set of what’s happening there.”
The benefits of this method become immediately clear, Adam says: “We can quickly start to identify if there’s any strange behaviors, warning signs, flags of things that maybe people need to be aware of.”
The Delivery: Simplifying the Complex
Of course, it’s not often that a client can look at raw RF data and decide quickly to take a follow-up action. That’s why HawkEye 360 packages its data into a format that customers can use.
“We try to remove the complexity from it as much as possible, given it is a new data set; people are still learning about it. We try to make it as simple as a dot on the map,” Adam says. “You don’t necessarily have to be an RF expert or an intelligence expert; you just need to know basics about how to look at maps and understand the data plotted.”
The end goal: “to deliver exactly what the customer needs when they need it, so that they can make the best decisions quickly,” Adam says. “It’s just another dimension of knowledge that’s equipping our customers … when facing extremely challenging decisions.”
And if customers are looking to make decisions based on historical data, HawkEye 360 can provide that, too. “Now that we’ve had satellites in orbit for multiple years … we’ve collected a great archive of prior information,” Adam says. “You can look back in time and start to see: What are the standard patterns?”
Based on these patterns, then, clients can make more informed decisions.
The Constellation: Mighty and Growing
Just because HawkEye 360’s satellites capture vast areas in a single image doesn’t mean the company is resting on its constellation laurels.
“Our satellites … fly in clusters of three,” Adam says. “We have now five clusters that are in orbit, so 15 satellites are currently flying.”
But that number is set to grow. Quickly.
“Within a couple of years … we’re going to try to get up to 20 clusters in orbit,” Adam says. “We’re trying to build out this constellation so we can collect more types of data, as well as more frequently.”
And as HawkEye 360 grows and technology advances, the satellites follow suit.
“The great news with doing the satellite launches, let’s say, every couple months, is we’re able to incrementally improve each time we put up satellites,” Adam says. “We usually do some type of enhancement and we get better and better at the data we collect.”
So, while the service HawkEye 360 provides today is enormously valuable, it seems that its future value is astronomical.