Maritime surveillance: Spy satellites in Frontex operation

Electronic intelligence from space has long been the business of intelligence agencies and the military. Miniaturized technology and Musk’s SpaceX company are now making this interesting for border agencies. Even radars from ships are to be scanned unnoticed by satellites.

To locate and track vessels, Frontex uses Automatic Identification System (AIS) data, which requires every major ship to regularly transmit its identity, respective location and destination to receiving equipment via VHF radio frequencies. In this way, the border agency aims to prevent, for example, unwanted smuggling of refugees or even drug smuggling into Europe. The information is enriched with images from optical or radar-based satellites in an „overall situation picture.“ Frontex uses an algorithm to determine from space data if a ship is behaving conspicuously.

The multilayered surveillance system reaches its limits when ships are „uncooperative“ and turn off their AIS transponders. Images from high-resolution optical satellites are also expensive and can only be used during the day and in good weather. Synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite data can detect ships at all times, but their resolution is coarse. „Maritime surveillance: Spy satellites in Frontex operation“ weiterlesen