Ursa Space Systems and Hawkeye 360 are combining synthetic aperture radar imagery with radio frequency signals data to identify and track ships that turn of their automatic identification signal transponders. Credit: Ursa

SAN ANTONIO — Geospatial data analytics company Ursa Space Systems is joining forces with HawkEye 360 to offer new products combining synthetic aperture radar and radio frequency data.

“Fusing radar and signals data is a logical step,” Derek Edinger, Ursa co-founder and chief strategy officer, told SpaceNews at the 2019 GEOINT Symposium. “It’s good for finding ships as well as terrestrial activity.”

Commercial firms and government agencies often identify ships through their Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponders. Ships conducting illegal activity, like fishing or oil transport in defiance of embargoes, either operate without transponders or turn them off to evade detection.

HawkEye 360 can still find the ships by homing in on radio communications or radar signals, said Chris DeMay, HawkEye 360 founder and chief technical officer. HawkEye 360 launched its first three satellites in December and unveiled its first RF mapping product in April. The spacecraft fly in formation to geolocate radio frequency signals.

“HawkEye 360 brings a new dataset that is very powerful on its own,” DeMay said. “The companies that will succeed in the geospatial world are the ones that are able to fuse valuable datasets.”

HawkEye 360 gathers RF data throughout the day and night regardless of weather conditions with very broad coverage, DeMay said. When HawkEye 360 satellites detect activity like the transmission of VHS push-to-talk radio communications on a ship that is not transmitting AIS, the company can tip-off Ursa to obtain SAR imagery, he added.

Ursa specializes in creating data products that draw on SAR. Ursa has established partnerships with many of the world’s radar satellite operators to create what it calls “a virtual SAR constellation.”

Initially, Ursa and HawkEye plan to focus on maritime monitoring. Later, they will investigate land applications where HawkEye 360 also can cue Ursa’s virtual SAR constellation.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...