Spire selected to design satellite for DARPA experiment in very low orbit


Spire, a commercial space company, has been selected by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, to design a smallsat experiment for studying high-frequency RF from LEO. Spire has operated for several years providing space-based SIGINT capabilities, such as maritime situational awareness. Their offerings include a constellation of over 100 cubesats to provide global coverage and quick revisit times.

Maritime situational awareness is of great interest to the US national security community for a variety of reasons, including: human trafficking, drug smuggling, and war-time tracking of foreign military vessels. An increasing reliance on commercial space companies to conduct such operations is a double-edged sword. On one hand, Spire already has a constellation on-orbit generating data to sell to buyers, such as the USN. However, just as the Navy can utilize Spire’s data to better track drug smugglers, so to can sophisticated actors use the same sets of data to track and evade their pursuers. The policy ramifications of this shift need to be carefully weighed against such potential risks.