Unseenlabs lines up Vega flight for fourth maritime surveillance satellite

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TAMPA, Fla. — French startup Unseenlabs is set to fly its next maritime surveillance nanosatellite on an Arianespace Vega rocket in mid-August, instead of launching with Rocket Lab as it did for the first three BRO spacecraft the venture has launched since mid-2019.

The Breizh Reconnaissance Orbiter-4 (BRO-4) is joining Arianespace’s second Vega rocket mission of 2021, slated to lift off from French Guiana Aug. 16 at 9:47 p.m. Eastern.

Vega’s primary mission is to deploy the Pléiades Neo 4 optical imaging satellite for builder and operator Airbus. Three European Space Agency cubesats are also joining the launch.

The upcoming Vega mission will be the 19th time that Arianespace has launched the small launch vehicle, which made its maiden flight in 2012. 

It is also the first since returning to flight April 28, following a Nov. 16 failure that destroyed its payloads. 

Unseenlabs said it booked the mission with Arianespace in part to contribute to Europe’s launch sovereignty.

“Beyond the technological and commercial considerations, I think it is a great opportunity to test a new launcher that will help guarantee and accelerate our access to space,” said Jonathan Galic, Unseenlabs co-founder and chief technology officer. 

Unseenlabs said BRO-4 expands a constellation that has been operational since U.S. and New Zealand-based Rocket Lab launched BRO-1 in August 2019, followed by BRO-2 and -3 in November 2020.

The startup is building out a radio-frequency geolocation constellation that enables customers to monitor and track signals from ships at sea.

Applications range from providing maritime companies up-to-date data on ship positions to giving governments more tools for tackling illegal fishing.

Unseenlabs said April 27 it raised 20 million euros ($25 million) to help grow its constellation by 2025 to between 20 and 25 satellites, up from the four it will have in orbit with a successful launch of BRO-4.

Other startups are chasing similar markets with their own satellites. British company Horizon Space Technologies raised funds for its radio-frequency-mapping maritime surveillance system in May.

U.S.-based HawkEye 360 has a substantial foothold in the market and launched its latest cluster of three satellites in June, after raising an additional $55 million in April.