Finance

The army finances a constellation of nanosatellites designed by a French startup

Monitoring the seas is a very complicated task. Given the size of the oceans, it is impossible for the French army, or for any navy in the world, to cover every corner of the seas. So in order to always have an idea of ​​what is happening offshore, the armed forces have turned, for several decades, to other surveillance systems.

This is particularly the case of France, which with an immense EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone), spread over the four corners of the planet, it must constantly monitor its waters, in order to avoid illegal fishing, and many other contrary activities. to laws. So in order to help the army in this task, the French company Unseenlabs, based in Rennes, sends nanosatellites into space, which are capable of mapping the seas with great precision.

Satellites to monitor the oceans

Today five devices are already in orbit, and two others should join the constellation during the month of April. But the whole strength of the Unseenlabs system does not lie in the number of satellites but in their operation. Indeed, the company does not focus on AIS beacons, which are an automatic identification system for ships at sea.

If these beacons are very powerful, they can have bugs, and can especially be disconnected at the goodwill of the people present on board. Thus a study dating from January 2020, carried out by the CNRS, ensures that in the Southern Ocean “more than a third of the boats encountered in international waters were not identifiable”.

Although this practice is very dangerous, it is very widespread in the oceans, and boats of all sizes play with the rule. This is particularly the case of a Mexican vessel, which was accidentally stopped off the French island of Clipperton at the end of 2020. The latter had deactivated its AIS so as not to be followed after having caught more than 1,000 tonnes of tuna. , illegally.

A risk that does not hinder fishermen, however, ready to do almost anything to improve their profitability. So in order to make the task more difficult for these illegal ships, Unseenlabs is working with its constellation of nanosatellites to capture radio frequencies, commonly used for navigation or radio.

Radios betray ships

Thanks to this data, the satellites are able to precisely locate a ship, and thus know whether its position is justified or not. The company explains that it can “providing unique knowledge for national security operations, environmental protection and a growing number of applications in the commercial sector”. She, who has been working with the French army since 2018, now hopes to grow her constellation.

Eventually, the Breton startup would like to have around twenty nanosatellites in orbit around the Earth to provide complete and almost constant coverage of the oceans.

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