in Space

Horizon Technologies awarded £1.2m UK Space Agency grant

Posted 19 October 2023

At an event at the Army-Navy Club in London last week, Horizon Technologies announced a £1.2 million grant awarded by the UK Space Agency.

Image courtesy Horizon Technologies

This grant is part of a £2.8 million total programme called the Amber Phoenix Mission. The Phoenix Mission will see another Amber RF (Radio Frequency) Earth Observation payload launched into orbit in mid-2024.

Dr Paul Bate (above), Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “Tracking vessels attempting to avoid detection is a complex challenge, but one that Horizon Technologies can help solve with their ground-breaking technology. Our support for the new Amber Phoenix Mission will develop a new capability to improve space-based maritime intelligence data services and catalyst further investment into the growing UK space sector.

“I’m looking forward to seeing Horizon Technologies launch many more satellites in the future.”

The UK government sponsor and initiator of the Amber programme is the Royal Navy via the Joint Maritime Security Centre (JMSC) in Portsmouth. Amber is a space-based data service and will play a key role in detecting 'dark vessels' such as those evading sanctions against Russia, Iran, etc., illegal fishing, smuggling (people and goods), transshipments and refugees.

Unlike other Earth Observations constellations, Amber is very unique. Horizon’s Amber payload detects, geolocates and demodulates maritime RF (Radars and SatPhones) signals from 'dark vessels'. Amber is a maritime intelligence data service and is unique in the marketplace. Amber is 'always on' and every Amber satellite/payload continuously covers about 3% of the world’s surface at all times. Amber satellites/payloads are not 'tasked' and act essentially as 'space-based RF signal vacuum cleaners', constantly picking up emitters over about 3% of the earth’s surface at all times. In addition, because Amber demodulates the RF data, the data is not merely 'radio frequency mapping' as offered by others.

The Amber Phoenix Mission satellite is to be the first of a proposed constellation of over twenty Amber payloads in orbit to provide worldwide RF data to the JMSC and other customers with 30-minute latency. Some Amber payloads will also be integrated and deployed on EO and SAR satellite constellations to provide tip and cue capabilities to end users.

According to Horizon Technologies CEO John Beckner: “The ability to proliferate Amber payloads into other constellations will one, give us lots of extra Looks Per Day (LPD) around the planet resulting in more revenue for Horizon and our partners and even better, two, will make tipping and cueing (whereby one satellite geolocates a target of interest and a follow-on satellite images that target [EO or SAR]) a reality and is sure to be market disruptive.”

Previously, Horizon Technologies’ original Amber payload was on one of eight small satellites lost on the Virgin Orbit failed launch of 9th January 2023 where Virgin Orbit’s Launcher One failed to reach the proper orbit. This was part of the Satellite Applications Catapult IOD-3 Programme for which Horizon Technologies was competitively selected in 2019.

Ms Lucy Edge, COO of the Satellite Applications Catapult said: “It’s been a pleasure for the Catapult to support Horizon Technologies’ transition into the space sector. After the January launch setback, the Horizon team has worked tirelessly for its follow-on mission - we wish them and Phoenix a successful venture.”

Horizon Technologies’ CEO John Beckner said: “Certainly, the bleak events of the evening of 9 January will not be forgotten anytime soon, but as soon as the mission failed, the whole Horizon team immediately came together to develop a plan to save Amber since it is a key sovereign UK technology. As one of the few UK SME’s on the Virgin Orbit launch, we received immediate guidance from the UK Space Agency team for which we are extremely grateful. Without the generous support of the UK Space Agency, we would have had to shut down this business segment.”




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