HawkEye 360 satellites focus on defense, security, intel missions

HawkEye 360, a radio frequency (RF) data analytics company based in Herndon, operates a first-of-its-kind commercial satellite constellation to identify, process and geo-locate a broad set of RF signals especially for defense, security and intelligence missions. John Serafini, chief executive officer, spoke to the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority about HawkEye 360, including the applications of its satellite technology operations, hiring projections, and why Fairfax County is a great place for the company’s headquarters.

FCEDA: Tell us about HawkEye 360 and what your business does.

Serafini: HawkEye 360 is building a constellation of small satellites, each equipped with a software-defined radio for the purposes of radio frequency (RF) spectrum scanning, the importance of which is to be able to detect objects that are emitting spectrum, assign an identity to them, track them and extract intelligence and information about their behavior and their intent long-term.

FCEDA: What do you consider the most innovative aspect of your company?

Serafini: Our products have three primary value propositions. One is there’s a capacity collection so that we can fill in gaps around the national systems. We can augment those systems and provide much needed diversification and resiliency in support of our national architecture.

Second, there are classified missions that we’re able to support by virtue of a small amount of our capacity. Both of those two help underwrite the annual capital expenditure to build and operate and replenish a constellation.

Long-term, the great hockey stick of HawkEye 360’s growth is in being able to convert that raw data into actionable multiple intelligence-product data analytics where you have multiple different types of commercial intelligence offerings fused into an analytic to not just provide raw data, but to actually answer a question for our customer. And normally for HawkEye 360, those questions are in around defense, security and intelligence missions, and also for our allies.

On the commercial side, we look at the concept of the global tragedies of the commons. These are areas like maritime environment or poaching, where you have global commons that can be abused by bad actors and by overuse. Illegal fishing is a great example, particularly within other countries’ economic exclusion zones. We provide the ability to monitor those economic exclusion zones in the case of illegal fishing, to detect when bad actors are illegally fishing within those boundaries, and to provide notification to national actors to go provide the interdiction, and importantly, to do the prosecution for long-term interdiction.

So that’s indicative of the kind of work that we do and protecting what we call the global commons. But beyond that, we can also help with man-made misdeeds, illicit activities such as human smuggling, trafficking of arms, trafficking of drugs, piracy, etc.— being able to detect bad actors when they go dark. By virtue of turning off their voluntary systems, we can still track them on their X-band radar, the push talk radio systems or other signals being emitted by their vessels, or in the case of a poacher being emitted by a satellite phone, identify where they are, track their identity and even forecast where they’ll be in the future. And that’s information which is highly valuable to law enforcement agencies worldwide.

HawkEye 360 Cluster 2 Constellation (photo courtesy of HawkEye 360)

FCEDA: How many employees do you have?

Serafini: We currently have 69 employees and are rapidly growing. We should to be at about 80 employees by six or seven months from now, toward the end of 2020. So rapid growth requires a whole lot of focus on human resources and recruiting. But importantly, we want to bring in a very diversified and multiple background skill-set employee base.

FCEDA: Why is Fairfax County a good place for your company to do business?

Serafini: One of the great things about being in the Fairfax County region is access to an employee base that believes in what I would call a “dual return.” That is, you have individuals who are earning great compensation by virtue of their base and their bonus and their benefits, but they’re also incentivized to do good by the nation and do good in supporting our allies, as well as addressing some of the global tragedies of the commons, which we’ve discussed earlier on. Uniquely, you find people who are very patriotic and interested in supporting the national mission here in Fairfax County.

There’s excellent complementary infrastructure here that makes building a company easy. And there’s obviously location next to our customers, which is important to us and being responsive to their requirements. It’s also close to Washington Dulles International Airport and some of the infrastructure for getting in and out of other areas in Northern Virginia, as well as the District of Columbia and accessing areas in Maryland. It’s all fairly convenient. We find it’s also convenient for sourcing talent. And there are also fantastic educational institutions in this area that help us with new, younger talent and bring on board a diversified workforce.

HawkEye 360 geolocated more than 11 million radio frequency signals during its first year in operation. (photo courtesy of HawkEye 360)

FCEDA: How has HawkEye 360’s business operations been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Serafini: With the majority of government employees working from home, access to classified information and data has been restricted. In this operating environment, the need for commercial, unclassified, and shareable data has become increasingly important for analysts to fulfill their work obligations. I am pleased that analysts are now remotely accessing and using HawkEye 360 RF data and RF analytics.

FCEDA: How has HawkEye 360 altered its operations because of the pandemic?

Serafini: HawkEye 360 has historically been very technically focused, thus our operations already heavily leveraged collaboration tools, the cloud and remote work tools. Thus when the pandemic hit we were able to transition to remoter operations very, very quickly to protect the core health of the company while maintaining our operations. The biggest change has been the fact that the vast majority of our day-to-day operations are handled remote. We miss the opportunity to work face-to face-but are thankful that our infrastructure and tools were setup such that we could transition to remote without impact.

To find out more about HawkEye 360, click here.

July 23, 2020