Speaker interview: Chris DeMay, Founder & CTO of HawkEye 360
Hi Chris, could you please tell us a little bit more about your position with HawkEye 360?
Sure! I am one of the founders of HawkEye 360 – HawkEye 360 is an RF analytics company and the first to launch commercial satellites to identify and geolocate a wide range of RF signals, unveiling a previously hidden global information source. Charles Clancy, Bob McGwier and I started the company in 2015 based on the premise that small-satellite technology combined with improved commercial launch lent itself to new formation-flying satellite applications. From that, HawkEye 360 was born and is now a company of about 50 people. With US$100m in venture capital, we are now growing the team and building out our constellation. As CTO, I’m responsible for the company’s technical strategy, spacecraft and launch acquisition approach, and strategic partnerships.
You will participate in the Outlining Future Data Requirements to Optimise the Transportation Industry panel at the Smallsats Conference on Thursday, 21 November. How have you seen the transportation industry change as the need for data and intelligence from space increases?
The introduction of space-based AIS has revolutionised shipping. For the first time, a company operations centre can receive precise information about the location of its cargo ships. But this wealth of data has also revealed significant gaps.
Maritime insurance is realising that it needs better information to find and identify ships that are purposefully evading detection for smuggling or other illicit activities. The financial risks are immense. For example, earlier this year a cargo ship owned by JPMorgan Chase bank was seized by the US Government because it was discovered to be carrying 20 tons of cocaine.
HawkEye 360’s constellation is delivering unique RF analytics that can help fill the gaps and improve visibility of the maritime environment.
HawkEye 360 is building a constellation of radio-frequency data satellites for the maritime market. One of the key areas of the smallsat industry is offering flexible services through advanced data analysis and downlinks. How can you ensure you provide the fastest services to customers?
Timely delivery of our products is a requirement for some of our customers: if maritime data and analytics are intended to be used for emergency response, for example, having confidence that the signal will be quickly detected, rapidly geolocated and efficiently analysed is essential. Even with a single cluster, in our orbit we see the Arctic every 90 minutes, and therefore can both detect and downlink data about that region frequently and quickly. As we build out our constellation and our ground station infrastructure, our global revisit time will get down to 30 minutes, our latency will decrease, our capacity will increase and the products will become increasingly valuable to our customers.
How do you think the smallsat industry and its services will develop in the coming decade?
Increased availability of dedicated launches for small satellites will enable smallsat constellations to be built out with optimised orbits on minimised timelines. That, combined with scaling on-orbit servicing, will change the calculus for spacecraft design by creating a new sweet spot for spacecraft size and design life. I’m rather excited about the potential of extending spacecraft life and the potential for freedom to manoeuvre without regret; satellite manufacturers need to all begin planning for that opportunity and reality.
In terms of industry news, what development, announcement or otherwise has stood out most to you in the past year and why?
The growth of both the smallsat ecosystem and launch opportunities has been phenomenal. Because the smallsat industry has reached a new level of maturity, HawkEye 360 has been able to source development of high-quality satellite buses and components, enabling us to achieve sophisticated capabilities in a relatively small package.
Just this past December, we participated in the largest United States rideshare launch, a SpaceX rocket that carried over 60 satellites into orbit. While competition for next-generation launch is stiff, the continued investment and general progress of the launch industry remains promising.
If you could have one historical figure over to dinner, who would it be and why?
I imagine you’re expecting a satellite pioneer or an astronaut, but I’d probably have Alexander Hamilton over for dinner, just so I could blow his mind by taking him to a very specific Broadway show afterwards.
We’re looking forward to seeing you at the Smallsats Conference at Space Tech Expo Europe. What are you most looking forward to at the show?
This will be my first satellite/space conference in Germany! I’m eager to spend more time with leadership from the international smallsat community, particularly with those who have built new and valuable businesses that have been enabled by smallsat technology. I look forward to hearing regional perspectives on the industry, and discussing ideas that I wouldn’t otherwise get to enjoy Stateside.
Join Chris at the free-to-attend Smallsats Conference at Space Tech Expo Europe 19-21 November 2019.