Satellites to shine light on dark ships

A constellation of private satellite providers aim to ensure the shady days of ships going dark fade into oblivion.

French startup UnseenLabs has unveiled plans to launch up to six more ship-tracking cube-sats next year to build on the success of its first satellite launched in August. The company’s satellite can detect radio-frequency signals from ships attempting to avoid detection who have switched off their automatic identification system (AIS) transponders, something in the  headlines this year with Iranian tankers skirting sanctions by going dark.

UnseenLabs uses orbiting sensors to track maritime traffic and has mapped out plans to have 20 satellites in space whereby it will be able to revisit any ship to keep track of its position on an hourly basis.

Other companies offering this radio-frequency ship monitoring service from space include Luxembourg-based Kleos Space and Reston, Virginia-based HawkEye 360.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. This is just the commercialisation of technology already in use by Governments. I am also pretty sure that if a ship owner wishes their ship to go dark for security reasons, then these companies who track the vessel would not give the shady types access to this info? or would they sell to it to highest bidder?. a bit too James Bond for me…

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