Satellite partnership to provide data on illegal maritime activity

Cocaine seizure onboard vessel: Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A partnership between two satellite firms will provide greater insights into the movements of vessels suspected of carrying out illegal activity. 

The two companies, Horizon Technologies and the Satellite Applications Catapult, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the UK’s National Maritime Information Centre (NMIC) to supply data gathered by their new IOD-3 AMBER satellite. 

The satellite is designed to reduce dependency on ships’ automatic identification signals (AIS) by using alternative sources of data to provide location information. This data will subsequently provide government end users with the knowledge they need to intercept law breakers at sea.  

“The new data that will be provided by IOD-3 AMBER will revolutionise the way we use information from satellites to tackle the full range of maritime security threats to the UK,” said Phil Ponsford of NMIC. “It has the potential to assist UK agencies in preventing a wide range of illegal activities including smuggling and people trafficking, and I’m sure it will fill a vital information gap in our maritime collection requirement as it comes online.”

While all vessels are required to use AIS, malicious actors will disable the signal to carry out activities such as smuggling and illegal fishing on the high seas.  

The payload on board IOD-3 AMBER will be able to locate and track vessels worldwide by picking up their electronic emissions using an L-band Satphone detection sensor package derived from Horizon’s existing FlyingFish system. 

According to a company statement, this technology is combined with an AIS receiver and sensors to detect, geolocate, and classify X/S-band maritime radars, thereby allowing correlation of these signals against the presence of AIS beacons. 

The IOD-3 AMBER satellite forms part of the Satellite Applications Catapult’s In-Orbit Demonstration programme (IOD), which is funded by Innovate UK.