Space Commerce

Hawkeye 360 Cluster 6 Satellites Come Online Increasing High Frequency Coverage

By Elizabeth Howell
March 27, 2023
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Hawkeye 360 Cluster 6 Satellites Come Online Increasing High Frequency Coverage
Hawkeye 360 Cluster

HawkEye 360’s latest cluster of satellites are ready for service.

The company announced March 14 that its Cluster 6 satellites are now in operation after their January 24 launch aboard the debut Rocket Lab Electron flight from Launch Complex 2 at Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport within NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility.

“The first thing is about providing a diversity of signals,” said Rob Rainhart, chief operating officer of HawkEye 360, which is based in Virginia not far from Dulles International Airport. 

“As we’ve continued to build out the constellation, we add new frequency coverage or capability to the payload, cluster over cluster,” he told SpaceRef. “That allows us to have a diversity of collection ability and cover a number of different markets, domains and applications.”

HawkEye 360 plans to build 20 clusters of satellites for its customers and should have 10 clusters in place by early next year, generally in an altitude range of 310 to 340 miles (500 to 550 kilometers). 

The satellites’ software defined radios can examine most frequencies between 144 MHz to 15 GHz, which roughly approximates VHF to Ku-Band. The microsatellites weigh approximately 22 pounds (10 kg) each with dimensions of roughly 15 by 12 by 8 inches (40 by 30 by 20 cm).

HawkEye 360’s concern is to keep increasing collection capacity and the revisit rate for the satellites to make data as timely as possible, Rainhart said. Cluster 7 is forecast to launch in April from Vandenberg Space Force Base aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9, and Clusters 8 and 9 will follow later this year (in the late summer or early fall) on a single launch aboard a Rocket Lab Electron.

The most recent launch of three satellites added frequencies to the growing constellation, allowing HawkEye 360 to increase coverage of higher frequency signals of 15 to 18 GHz. The company activated a three-antenna ground station in Maui, Hawaii with dedicated access to HawkEye 360 satellites to help support the new operations.

Cluster 6 also went into a mid-inclination orbit, in contrast to the previous five launches that were in polar orbits. With 18 satellites now active, “it helps drive down the revisit rate of clusters within our constellation for customers, so that timeliness of data is getting better,” Rainhart said.

HawkEye 360 does not disclose its customers due to international security and defense concerns, but in general they serve governments or government agencies that are either from the United States or international partners of Americans. 

Key markets include defense and intelligence seeking to examine broad swaths of Earth for monitoring, such as illicit ocean activity, interference within communications spectrums or monitoring borders around economic exclusion zones.

“There’s obviously a lot of dynamics in the world, whether that be the activities that are happening in Europe, around Ukraine and activities that are happening in the South China Sea or any number of other areas, and so our customers are really interested in those activities,” Rainhart said. 

“They want to have situational awareness of those activities. They want to understand the dynamic and the impact that might have on their sovereign capabilities,” he added of his customers, and pointed to a few items tend to customers look for. 

One example includes “dark ships” that attempt to perform naval activities without mandatory broadcasted information about their destination, origin and activities. Another is GPS interference, which has particularly been talked about publicly during the war in Ukraine that erupted in February 2022 with Russia’s invasion.

The privately held company does not disclose financials outside of its backers, but Rainhart said growth overall “steadily increased” in the last financial year with revenue increasing 50 percent year-over-year. Their current headcount stands at 150 employees, roughly 10 percent or 20 percent higher than last year as their satellite clusters come online.

Hawkeye 360’s latest series of funding, Series D, was $150 million that concluded in January 2022; it was led by led by New York-based global private equity and venture capital firm Insight Partners, along with space tech fund Seraphim Space Investment Trust. As of November 2021, Hawkeye 360 said it had raised a total of $302 million, but Series D had a second closing that added $5 million more to that total.

Once the constellation gets to 20 clusters, the 60 total satellites will allow for a revisit rate of less than 20 minutes for HawkEye 360 customers. HawkEye 360 plans to assess whether more need to be added at that point, but will otherwise focus on replenishing the existing clusters for better capabilities, Rainhart said.

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