How the UK aims to halt illegal fishing and human trafficking with bargain shoebox-sized spy satellites
The Government has signed a deal with a British company to use data from a next-generation satellite capable of tracking illicit ships as part of efforts to improve surveillance of coastal waters.
By Cahal Milmo
May 7, 2021
At some point on 18 August this year one of the reusable SpaceX rockets dreamt up by billionaire Elon Musk will loft into the skies above Florida bound for the International Space Station. Among its payload of cutting-edge technology will be a shoebox-sized spy satellite which represents Britain’s entry into a burgeoning new world of cut-price surveillance spacecraft.
The IOD-3 Amber “cube sat”, which measures barely 35cm long and 20cm wide and has been developed by a small British company called Horizon Technologies, is one of a new breed of highly compact intelligence-gathering satellites that seek out the faint signals emitted by the navigation radars and radio wave communications of ships operating clandestinely around the world – or, more specifically, in Britain’s coastal waters.
The data gathered by this orbital oblong, which is partly funded by the British government, will be beamed to a collection of nondescript brick buildings in the Portsmouth area which house the National Maritime Information Centre (NMIC) – a multi-agency body comprising organizations from the Royal Navy to the National Crime Agency to Scotland Yard’s SO15 counter-terrorism branch – which is responsible for tracking maritime threats facing the UK at home and abroad.