SFL offers flexible support for HawkEye 360 constellation

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SAN FRANCISCO – Toronto-based Space Flight Laboratory won a contract to support development of HawkEye 360 satellites, which pinpoint the location of radio frequency signals.

Under the contract announced Nov. 14, SFL will support development of five HawkEye 360 clusters, comprised of three satellites apiece. SFL will design, assemble and integrate HawkEye 360’s Cluster 9.

In addition, SFL, part of the University of Toronto’s Institute for Aerospace Studies, will provide technical support for HawkEye 360’s integration of Clusters 7, 8, 10 and 11 at its manufacturing facility in near its Herndon, Virginia, headquarters. The value of the contract was not disclosed.

The award is significant for SFL because it reveals SFL’s ongoing relationship with HawkEye 360, an SFL customer that built its own satellite manufacturing facility earlier this year. The contract also demonstrates the popularity of SFL Flex Production, a new program that offers to help customers with any aspects of satellite design, assembly, integration and testing.

“The idea is to adapt to customer needs,” Zee said. “Different customers have different needs.”

Space startups tend to focus on reducing the cost of space-related products and services. To keep costs low, many companies have opted for in-house production.

Still, some startups turn to organizations like SFL that have experience in delivering satellites “that perform well in orbit and last quite a long time,” Zee said. “The challenge in industry is to have the benefits of both worlds.”

Customers in SFL’s Flex Production program, could have SFL “build all their satellites or they could build their satellites in-house or they could have SFL enlist the assistance of a third party” to quickly mass produce a large constellation, Zee said.

Customers tend to rely more heavily on SFL to support design changes like adding payloads or performing other technology upgrades.

HawkEye 360 satellites fly in formation to detect and geolocate RF signals for a variety of applications including maritime, emergency response and national security. The company’s goal is to launch 20 three-satellite clusters by the end of 2025.

SFL developed HawkEye 360’s three-satellite Pathfinder cluster launched in 2018. SFL also built the satellites in HawkEye 360’s second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth clusters.

HawkEye 360’s sixth cluster of three satellites is scheduled to launch in December on the first Rocket Lab Electron from Wallops Island, Virginia.