Herndon-based start-up HawkeEye360 said Wednesday it has raised $11 million to help send seven fleets of small satellites into low-earth orbit, where they will track radio frequencies from space. The funding comes mainly from Razor’s Edge Management, a local venture firm with close ties to the government intelligence community. The company plans to launch its first cluster of three satellites in late 2017 after it raises more capital, with more launches to come depending on the outcome of the first launch.
The ability to track radio frequency (RF) signals would differentiate HawkEye from other commercial imaging services, which tend to use advanced cameras. Tracking radio waves could yield new applications in areas like ship tracking; pinpointing ship deployment based on the radio waves they give off, and doing so on a global scale.
Governments could use HawkEye’s system to keep track of their own ship deployments as well as those of other governments. Commercial shipping operators could use it to make sure their own ships are accurately reporting where they are and even keep tabs on rival companies’ shipping routes. Coast guards could use it to quickly find endangered ships when, say, a hurricane approaches.
The company is working on a mapping capability that would display signals on a single screen, like a radar system that sits on the outer edges of the Earth’s atmosphere.
“Anything that is emanating a signal that we can track, that could be provided to any customer,” said HawkEye360 chief executive John Serafini.
Hawkeye was founded in Herndon last year as a subsidiary of Allied Minds, a holding company that trades on the U.K.’s public stock market. CEO Serafini is a former Army infantryman who founded the company with Virginia Tech professors T. Charles Clancy and Robert McGwier. Another co-founder, Chris DeMay, worked at the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office, the federal intelligence agency that operates the government’s satellite surveillance systems.
The company is being advised by intelligence industry luminaries including Stewart Baker, former general counsel of the National Security Agency, and Rand Beers, retired deputy homeland security adviser to President Obama.
Razor’s Edge led the funding round. Its founding partner Peggy Styer is chief executive of Blackbird Technologies, an intelligence operations firm that sold to defense contractor Raytheon for $420 million in 2014.