Iridium Communications has made a strategic investment in UK-headquartered DDK Positioning to enhance its global positioning services
DDK uses the Iridium network to provide global precision positioning services that can augment Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) constellations to provide greater accuracy using US-run GPS and Europe’s Galileo for critical industrial applications. DDK is developing similar services for other GNSS constellations, such as Russia-owned Glonass and China-backed Beidou.
Iridium said DDK’s technology improves GPS accuracy from within 10 m to less than 5 cm. This is important for dynamic positioning (DP) used for offshore infrastructure projects and support vessel operations, for internet of things (IoT) and maritime applications.
“We see great potential for DDK’s technology and how it takes advantage of the Iridium network,” said Iridium chief executive Matt Desch. “DDK’s enhanced positioning is a unique capability that adds a high-value solution on top of our existing portfolio of custom network services,” he said.
“Solutions from Iridium and DDK partners focused on precision agriculture, autonomous systems, maritime and infrastructure projects can now experience incredibly precise GNSS accuracy from anywhere on the planet,” Mr Desch added.
Iridium’s low Earth orbit satellite constellation has an advantage over geostationary satellites for positioning, communications and IoT applications in high latitudes.
Positioning services such as GNSS and AIS using geostationary satellites suffer from line-of-sight blockage issues and coverage limitations in and around the Arctic and Antarctic regions.
DDK chief executive Kevin Gaffney said “This partnership is a perfect fit for DDK, with Iridium’s satellite communications network and our GNSS solution, we are in a position to deliver a truly unique service which is robust, resilient and secure,” Gaffney said. “The investment made by Iridium will also allow us to grow the company even further while expanding our service offering globally.”
Rival satellite owner Orbcomm has entered into an agreement with Unseenlabs, which provides technology to locate ships using radio frequency (RF) detection to jointly provide satellite-collected RF services for maritime surveillance applications.
Unseenlabs’ detection services use a dedicated nanosatellite constellation to enable surveillance of vessels that have turned off their automatic identification system (AIS) transponders to engage in illegal activities or evade authorities. Its RF sensors detect and identify electromagnetic waves emitted by ships to geolocate any vessel at sea from space, in near-real time and regardless of weather conditions, to within 1 km.
Unseenlabs provides data on vessel positions using electromagnetic fingerprinting, to enable unfalsifiable identification of the emitter and provide significantly enhanced tracking of activities at sea.
This will supplement Orbcomm’s AIS data from its satellite constellation, said Orbcomm senior vice president and general manager of government, AIS and business operations Greg Flessate. “We are excited to work with Unseenlabs to pursue new opportunities for their space-based maritime surveillance services through our partnerships with maritime information providers as well as our key government customers,” he said.
“Unseenlabs’ unique RF emissions detection technology is a critical tool to identify and report bad actors turning off their AIS devices while engaged in illegal activities at sea such as unregulated fishing, violating trade sanctions, environmental pollution, drug and human trafficking.”
Orbcomm will continue investing in its AIS business to expand coverage with two new AIS CubeSats satellites, which feature advanced software-defined radio receivers and multi-antenna implementation. These will increase visibility to smaller Class B ships and extend Orbcomm’s polar footprint when they are launched within the next year.
Orbcomm is also working with AAC Clyde Space and Saab to develop space-based VHF Data Exchange System satellites, one of which will be commissioned in 2022 to enhance maritime communications by providing more extensive global coverage and increased bandwidth and versatility.
Ship positioning and vessel tracking technologies will be discussed in depth during Riviera Maritime Media’s Vessel Optimisation Webinar Week, 24-27 May.