HawkEye 360 operates a constellation of nine RF-monitoring satellites. Twenty-one additional satellites are under construction or built and awaiting launch. Credit: Hawkeye 360

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Federal Communications Commission gave HawkEye 360 the approvals it needs to launch and operate 15 additional satellites for radio-frequency mapping from low-Earth orbit. The license, issued Dec. 10, permits HawkEye 360 to launch up to 80 satellites over 15 years in order to maintain a constellation of 15 operational spacecraft. 

Herndon, Virginia-based HawkEye 360 has three pathfinder satellites in orbit today, and 15 more under construction by the Space Flight Laboratory at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies. The FCC said the first three satellites will not count towards the 15 since they were authorized under an experimental license. 

Rob Rainhart, HawkEye 360’s chief operating officer, said the new FCC approval positions the company to operate six clusters of three satellites — enough to pinpoint radio signals with revisit rates of 30 to 50 minutes. 

“It’s right in line with our business plan and gives us time to coordinate beyond that as the markets change,” he said in a Dec. 18 interview. 

HawkEye 360 asked the FCC to defer further evaluation of a filing the company submitted in January to begin laying the regulatory groundwork for an expanded constellation of 80-operational satellites.

Rainhart said HawkEye 360 chose to take a piecemeal approach to licensing, focusing first on near-term needs instead of trying to coordinate spectrum for a potential larger constellation. 

“We don’t see any issues coordinating those remaining satellites,” he said. “It’s just something we chose not to do in the short term to get up to that full constellation.”

Rainhart said HawkEye 360 doesn’t have a timetable for an 80-satellite constellation. The company has contemplated constellations of various sizes, he said, but has always had a baseline configuration of 18 satellites. 

“There’s absolutely opportunities in the future to grow that much larger than that,” he said. “But we have time to work on that and pre-coordinate that, and we have time to design that.”

HawkEye 360’s next trio of satellites is scheduled to launch in 2020 on an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, Rainhart said. Those satellites, and the 12 others HawkEye 360 has under construction, will all have more power, payload volume and capacity than the company’s first three pathfinder satellites, he said. 

HawkEye 360 flies its satellites in clusters of three, keeping them in tight formation to geolocate signals. Its satellites can detect signals from radars, handheld devices, satellite terminals and other transmitters, enabling the company to identify activity patterns in maritime, defense and other sectors. The company has raised more than $100 million, and counts the National Reconnaissance Office among its customers. 

Caleb Henry is a former SpaceNews staff writer covering satellites, telecom and launch. He previously worked for Via Satellite and NewSpace Global.He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science along with a minor in astronomy from...