LE BOURGET: Startup Kleos Space has won an additional 1 million Euro ($1.2 million) in government support for development of radio frequency (RF) based geolocation data, products and services, bringing total state funding by the tiny country of Luxembourg for the firm to almost 3 billion Euro ($3.3 billion).
Contingent on the success of the firm’s planned launch of its first four “Scouting Mission” satellites in early August, Friday’s infusion of funds enables Kleos to apply for future support from the European Space Agency’s Business Applications Program — with a contract possible by the end of 2019. “The application will be made ASAP,” Kleos spokeswoman Pascale Kauffman told me in an email today.
Tiny Luxembourg is mighty in Europe’s space innovation sector. Because of a government-backed investment and tax-break scheme launched in 2017, it now is home to more than 50 commercial space companies and research labs. Andy Bowyer, CEO of Kleos Space said in a press statement, “The Luxembourg Space Agency ecosystem is highly supportive of commercial enterprises, assisting with product development financing and also licensing.”
Kleos in September 2018 signed a contract with Australian small-launch provider (and DoD contractor) Rocket Lab for the launch of the four 8kg nanosatellites that will form the baseline of a future 20-satellite constellation in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The constellation is designed to geolocate radio transmissions from ships — including those like pirates and North Korean sanctions busters who run dark by turning off their satellite-based Automatic Identification System (AIS). Maritime safety and security is increasingly an issue for both the US (particularly in the Pacific, but also in the currently fraught Persian Gulf) and European allies are concerned.
Kleos intends to sell subscriptions to the data, and its own analytic services to governments and commercial companies wishing to keep track of maritime traffic, identify potential pirate ships and illegal activities and/or conduct search and rescue operations.
Kauffman said that “Kleos provides (1) data which is unprocessed by our algorithms (suited to our customers who have their own geo-location analysis/signals intelligence capability); (2) data sets that we have processed to deliver geo-located RF activity (ready for further analytics by the customer within GEOINT and data fusion programs); and (3) user-defined data-type, which is a user-defined, customized data set (that) allows the selection of specific areas of interest, ground station, level of security and level of processing by the customer.”
Kleos is the primary competitor of Herndon, VA-based Hawkeye 360, which launched its first three Pathfinder RF geolocation satellites in December 2018 on the SpaceX Falcon 9 (along with 60 other smallsats). In February, Hawkeye 360 announced that it had successfully performed its first tracking missions, and in April released its first mapping product called RFGeo. According to the company, RFGeo will “initially support identification and geolocation of maritime VHF radio channels, marine emergency distress beacons and vessel (AIS) signals. In the coming months, HawkEye 360 will expand the signal catalog to support more applications. Mapping RF signals will provide valuable insights for many markets, such as defense, border security, maritime, emergency response and telecommunications.”
While Hawkeye 360 does not generally reveal its customers, the American National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is increasingly turning its attention to acquiring geolocation products and services, David Gauthier, director of NGA’s new Commercial & Business Operations office, told me at GEOINT 2019. He further noted that NGA is interested in Hawkeye 360’s capabilities, among others.
While NRO now has responsibility for procuring commercial satellite imagery, NGA retains the responsibility for acquiring commercial data analytics and services. Further, unlike NRO, NGA has both a precedent and an interest in obtaining data products generated by commercial companies in allied countries. Thus, it is at least theoretically possible that Kleos, like Hawkeye 360, might generate NGA interest once its network is up and running.