WHEN A COMPANY called HawkEye 360 wanted to test its wares, it gave an employee a strange, deceptive task. While the worker stood in Virginia, he held the kind of transceiver that ships carry to broadcast their GPS locations. Usually such a signal would reveal his true position to a radio receiver, but he’d altered the broadcast to spoof his GPS position, making it seem like he was in fact off the coast of Maine.
But his company’s instruments, which in this test were carried by Cessnas flying routes over East Coast waters, picked up on the chicanery. Now HawkEye 360, the satellite startup that made the detectors, plans to send its first three instruments into space later this month. Called Pathfinder, the cluster of satellites will work together to locate and make sense of radio emissions beamed up from the ground. With it, HawkEye 360 gains access to communications information that has mostly been controlled by governments.