SFL to Build Microsatellites Cluster for HawkEye 360’s Commercial RF Geolocation Project

Small-Sat technology leader, Space Flight Laboratory (SFL), has received the prime contract to develop the next generation cluster of formation-flying microsatellites for HawkEye 360. The HawkEye Constellation, consists of multiple clusters of three satellites each. It is the first system of its kind to detect and geo-locate RF signals for maritime, emergency response, and spectrum analysis applications directly from space.

SFL built the platforms and integrated the HawkEye 360 Pathfinder cluster which was launched into a low-Earth orbit in December 2018 and commissioned early this year. The three formation-flying Pathfinder microsatellites have successfully demonstrated geolocation of VHF, emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB), automatic identification system (AIS) and marine radar signals.

According to HawkEye 360 Founder and Chief Technology Officer Chris DeMay, through the development, launch and commissioning of the Pathfinder cluster; SFL demonstrated exceptional ability to deliver the solution it required. The company’s customer-first approach and engineering prowess resulted in the first-of-its-kind RF analytics that the HawkEye 360 is generating today.

SFL is developing the next-generation cluster to service more sophisticated payloads as HawkEye 360 broadens its detection and geo-location capabilities. The cluster will incorporate SFL technologies that make on-orbit formation flying possible. Most prominent of these technologies is the high-performance attitude control system developed by SFL to keep micro and nanosatellites stable in orbit.

SFL satellite technology was selected for the HawkEye 360 Pathfinder mission due to the importance of formation flying by multiple satellites for successful RF signal geo-location and analysis. The relative positions of each satellite in the constellation must be known to accurately geo-locate the transmission sources of the radio frequency signals. SFL first demonstrated affordable on-orbit formation control with smaller satellites in the 2014 Canadian CanX-4/CanX-5 mission.

Established in 1998 as a self-sustaining specialty lab at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS), SFL has built 25 nano and microsatellites with nearly 100 cumulative years of successful operation in orbit to date. It generates bigger returns from smaller, lower cost satellites. Small satellites built by the company consistently push the performance envelope and disrupt the traditional cost paradigm. Satellites are built with advanced power systems, stringent attitude control and high-volume data capacity that are striking relative to the budget. SFL arranges launches globally and maintains a mission control center accessing ground stations worldwide. The pioneering and barrier breaking work of the company is a key enabler to tomorrow’s cost aggressive satellite constellations.