New space-tech partnership to track crime at sea

International | Manufacturing | South East | Technology

amber satellite

Two UK organisations have partnered to adapt satellite technology to track ships engaging in illegal activities.

Horizon Technologies, a Reading-based SME, and the Satellite Applications Catapult have signed a contract to adapt Horizon Technologies’ existing signals intelligence (SIGINT) system for use by the end of 2020.

Funded by Innovate UK, the IOD-3 AMBER satellite will be in orbit and operational before the end of next year.

At present, all ships are fitted with Automatic Identification Signals (AIS), which can be detected by satellites but can also be manually turned off to avoid detection when undertaking activities such as illegal fishing, piracy, and smuggling.

The payload onboard IOD-3 AMBER will be able to locate and track vessels worldwide by picking up their electronic emissions and correlating these signals against the presence of AIS beacons.

The satellite will work together with Horizon Technologies’ Amber Ground Exploitation Station (GES) to be established in Cornwall (Newquay). The development of the GES was funded by Innovate UK in 2018 to provide end-to-end data services linked to illegal maritime activity to customers worldwide, and the GES will be operational by the time IOD-3 AMBER is launched.

The satellite bus will be supplied by Glasgow-based AAC Clyde Space and will be deployed into orbit from the International Space Station by launch provider Nanoracks.

John Beckner, CEO of Horizon Technologies, said “As a UK SME, we couldn’t be more pleased to work in partnership with the Satellite Applications Catapult for Amber.

“By the end of next year, our UK and international customers will be receiving ship geolocation data (to include GPS locations) of maritime vessels via a number of RF emissions. The world will have taken a major step forward in its quest to monitor international illegal maritime activity.”

Stuart Martin, CEO of the Satellite Applications Catapult, said “The Satellite Applications Catapult has been committed to the use of space-based technologies for tracking illegal maritime activity since 2013.

“It is our role as a Catapult to grow the market for satellite-enabled services like Amber and working with Horizon Technologies to deliver new capability from a CubeSat platform demonstrates the tremendous potential of the In-Orbit Demonstration program.”

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