A new surveillance satellite mission will be launched this year after a significant rise in threat levels to shipping in equatorial regions
Kleos has changed the Scouting Mission satellites’ orbit from a sun synchronous (SSO) route to a 37° inclination orbit to counter risks to shipping.
Kleos satellites use radio frequency (RF) for maritime reconnaissance, which enables them to identify and track ships that have turned off their automatic identification system (AIS) equipment used for vessel tracking.
“When a ship goes dark to vanish from global tracking systems, Kleos satellites can locate them through their RF transmissions,” said Kleos chief executive Andy Bowyer.
“In the last month [July 2019] alone, at least 20 ships have switched off their transponders in the Strait of Hormuz to avoid detection.”
When its four satellites are launched, scheduled for Q4 2019, Kleos will be able to track ships using their RF transmissions in key shipping hotspots, such as the Middle East, Australian coast, southern US coast and both east and western African coasts.
By changing the orbital inclination for the Scouting Mission cluster, Kleos thinks it has improved data collection by a factor of between 2 and 4.5 times over crucial shipping target regions.
“The change in inclination opportunity allows Kleos to deliver more frequent and higher value coverage for a broad spectrum of users – through defence, security and commercial operations in their key areas of interest, when compared to SSO,” said Mr Bowyer.
Kleos has contracted Spaceflight Inc as the launch and mission management provider. The Scouting Mission satellites are to be deployed into orbit on the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, which is an expendable medium-lift launch vehicle designed and operated by the Indian Space Research Organisation.
Once commissioned, Kleos’ satellites could observe RF transmissions at any time of day because they are not dependant on sunlight, unlike most earth observation missions which fly in an SSO to allow for the sun to illuminate their targets for imagery.
Kleos has secured defence and maritime security customers for its maritime RF data.
Earlier in August, Kleos formed a safety-at-sea collaboration with Spire Maritime to combine AIS data with RF information.
They will jointly develop ship tracking tools for improving maritime security and safety. Spire provides AIS information from its constellation of satellites.