January 23, 2019

ICEYE and Spire launch joint project

ICEYE's microsatellites are a fraction of the size and cost of previous SAR-imaging satellites.
ICEYE's microsatellites are a fraction of the size and cost of previous SAR-imaging satellites.
ICEYE

Microsatellite startup ICEYE and data analytics provider Spire have agreed to begin technology collaboration to detect illegal activity on the high seas.

The two are set to combine ICEYE’s synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) imaging and Spire’s satellite-based automatic identification system (S-AIS) analytics to offer clients advanced maritime domain awareness.

The novel capability will be used to detect illegal transshipment and fishing in countries’ exclusive economic zones. It is estimated that illegal fishing causes an annual cost of 23 billion US dollars.

“This alliance will provide more businesses and governments with a new and increased ability to monitor maritime traffic, including vessels that want to avoid detection,” said Pekka Laurila, CSO and co-founder of ICEYE.

The value of ICEYE’s solution is in its cost-efficiency and radar-based imaging, which is able to produce actionable data regardless of the time of day and terrestrial weather conditions – something that is not possible with the competitors’ optical solutions.

“Our relationship with ICEYE means that never before available tools will suddenly be an actionable resource to those committed to securing our oceans,” commented John Lusk, general manager of Spire Maritime.

ICEYE, an Aalto University spinoff, has seen a solid stream of funding coming in to realise its intermediate target of an 18-satellite constellation.

Fighting crime with integrated analytics

An AIS is a tracking system that uses transponders on ships to support maritime situational awareness. The system is based on on-the-ground coastal stations and is increasingly complemented by satellites (S-AIS).

Spire’s S-AIS analytics combine numerous data sets to provide a ship’s basic information as well as pinpoint its location and estimate its movement. The company currently has a constellation of almost 80 satellites in orbit, offering information from the most remote places on Earth, often with limited coastal AIS coverage.

In addition to limited domain awareness in remote parts of the world, vessels can turn off their systems to avoid detection by maritime authorities.

ICEYE’s SAR-imaging, which is unaffected by weather conditions and daylight, is able to keep track of vessels even if they have turned off their transponders. There are several possible reasons for turning off the systems, including dubious ones such as illegal fishing and arms and drug trafficking.

Combining the two companies’ data and refining it into systematic operational data will help public authorities to focus their resources more efficiently.

SAR-imaging is based on radar, whereas optical imaging requires light to illuminate its object. The radar sends pulses of radio waves to Earth, captures the resulting echo and is able to process the information into imagery.

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