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Ursa Space, Spire Partner on Maritime Domain Awareness Services for Government

By | August 17, 2022
Photo: Spire Global.

Photo: Spire Global.

Ursa Space Systems and Spire Global, two commercial companies that provide remote sensing services to government and other customers, have formalized a partnership to combine their capabilities for detecting illicit maritime activity for the U.S. government.

Ursa Space, which is based in New York, leverages synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery provided by other commercial companies with satellite constellations that image the Earth. Spire, which is based in Northern Virginia, has a constellation of more than 100 radio frequency (RF) monitoring satellites that detect electronic emissions on Earth, including from automatic identification system (AIS) transponders that transmit position, location and other information about a ship.

The companies said their fused offering allows the detection and tracking of ships that have gone “dark,” which is when ships turnoff their AIS transponders. If this happens, SAR-based satellites can be used to detect and track these ships in all-weather conditions and at night. Even with a ship’s AIS system turned off, RF-based satellites can still detect these vessels if they are emitting other types of electronics such as satellite communications.

“Illegal maritime activity has far-reaching implications on national security, economics, human rights and more, but for a long time it was hard to prevent due to the lack of transparency on the open oceans,” Chuck Cash, vice president of federal sales for Spire, said in a statement. “Our partnership with Ursa Space is a phenomenal demonstration of how data collected from space can improve life on Earth. The complementary nature of AIS data and SAR imagery plays a major role in detecting and preventing illegal maritime activity.”

The partnership between the two commercial remote sensing companies follows the issuance in June of a National Security Memorandum by President Joe Biden aimed at combating illegal fishing by distant water fleets in the world’s oceans. The president directed the Departments of Defense and State, and the U.S. Agency for International Development to increase the “use of vessel tracking systems, aerial surveillance, and radio frequency data, as well as using emerging technologies such as advances in machine learning paired with synthetic aperture radar as appropriate.”

China maintains the world’s largest distant water fishing fleet, which often goes “dark” to avoid detection in pursuit of fish stocks outside its territorial waters.

In May, the U.S., Australia, India and Japan also agreed on an Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness to work with regional partners on a near-real-time, integrated, and cost-effective maritime domain awareness picture.

This article was first published by Via Satellite sister outlet Defense Daily.