Big Things Come in Very Small Packages: A New Way of Looking at the Ocean 

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Wilmington, N.C. (June 24, 2021) – The University of North Carolina Wilmington would like to announce that the UNCW SeaHawk-1 Cubesat, outfitted with the HawkEye Ocean Color Imager, has completed on-orbit Commissioning and has entered into a period of phased startup of Operations on June 21, 2021.  

Ocean color satellite oceanography provides a unique window into the global ocean ecosystem. UNCW’s SeaHawk-1 Cubesat satellite has pushed the boundaries of what was previously thought to be possible with such a tiny spacecraft (10cm x 10cm x 30 cm – about the size of a loaf of bread) weighing less than 5kg (11 pounds). The SOCON project provides a new tool for high-quality science missions through its use of a low-cost miniature ocean color sensor called HawkEye. With 120-meter spatial resolution, nearly 100 times more information per pixel of its predecessors can be collected, HawkEye data will enhance our understanding of ocean biology and complement the larger, polar orbiting satellites currently in space.   

Similar to the superior vision of a hawk, the HawkEye’s high-spatial resolution imagery improves scientists’ ability to monitor fjords, estuaries, coral reefs and other near-shore environments where anthropogenic stresses are often most acute and where there are considerable security and commercial interests. Now that SOCON has entered the Operations phase, free access will be provided to all data collected by HawkEye to the International Ocean Color Community. The satellite is expected to produce around 100 images per week. (Please see definitions below for Commissioning, Operations and International Ocean Color Community.)   

Funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, UNCW’s SOCON Project ( demonstrates the capability to construct low-cost, autonomous nanosatellites (cubesats) to provide sustained, high spatial resolution information about ocean surface processes. SeaHawk-1 was launched on Dec. 3, 2018. Lessons learned in this activity can be found on the program’s website. 

All HawkEye imagery will be made available free of charge via the NASA Ocean Biology Distributed Active Archive Center (OB.DAAC) on NASA’s Ocean Color Web at In addition, NASA’s free comprehensive software package for the processing, display and analysis of ocean color data, known as SeaDAS (, has also been updated to include the support for HawkEye.   

UNCW’s SOCON Project is a unique public, private and federal partnership between the following entities: University of North Carolina Wilmington, (public: owner/operator); University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, (public: co-lead of the mission’s science program and liaison with the International Ocean Color community to manage scientific requests for images); Cloudland Instruments (private/commercial: design and construction of HawkEye ocean color sensor); AAC Clyde Space (private/commercial: design and construction of SeaHawk satellite bus); Spaceflight Inc. (private/commercial: launch service provider); and NASA/Goddard’s Ocean Color Group (federal: Under a Space Act Agreement between UNCW and NASA's Science Mission Directorate, a partnership was created to ensure the collection, archive, distribution and calibration of HawkEye data to maximize its use by the science community.). 

Additional Information and Resources: 

Learn more about the project status, data availability and dissemination of intellectual property rights at the project website: 

John M. Morrison 
Professor of Physics and Physical Oceanography 
Center for Marine Science 
University of North Carolina at Wilmington 


Andrea Weaver 
Interim Chief Communications Officer 
Office of University Relations 
University of North Carolina Wilmington 

The University of North Carolina Wilmington, the state's coastal university, is dedicated to learning through the integration of teaching and mentoring with research and service. Guided by our Strategic Plan, the university is committed to nurturing a campus culture that reflects its values of diversity and globalization, ethics and integrity, and excellence and innovation. A public institution with an enrollment of nearly 18,000 students, the university is focused on supporting and enhancing the student-centered learning experience that has been a hallmark since its founding in 1947. As a doctoral university with high research activity, UNCW offers an array of programs at the baccalaureate and master’s levels, and doctoral programs in marine biology, educational leadership, psychology and nursing practice. UNCW is one of the 17 institutions that make up the UNC System. 

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation fosters path-breaking scientific discovery, environmental conservation, patient care improvements and preservation of the special character of the Bay Area. Visit or follow @MooreFound. 

AAC Clyde Space specializes in small satellite technologies and services that enable businesses, governments and educational organizations to access high-quality, timely data from space. Its growing capabilities bring together three divisions:  

Space Data as a Service – delivering data from space directly to customers 

Space missions – turnkey solutions that empower customers to streamline their space missions  

Space products and components – a full range of off-the-shelf and tailor-made subsystems, components and sensors 

AAC Clyde Space aims to become a world leader in commercial small satellites and services from space, applying advances in its technology to tackle global challenges and improve our life on Earth.  

The Group’s main operations are located in Sweden, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and the USA, with partner networks in Japan and South Korea. 


Commissioning: demonstrate a consistent and reliable performance of the satellite and operations to fulfil the project objective and agreed upon operations concept. 

Operations: Routine Operations: the Science Operations Control Group (SOC) at UNCW and NASA generating routine scheduling of the HawkEye imagery and data downlink by the NASA Near Earth Network; uplink of schedules to SeaHawk-1 by the Mission Operations Center (MOC) at Clyde Space; Data Collection (roughly 15 images/day) by SeaHawk-1; routine downlink of imagery by NASA NEN stations at Wallops Island, Virginia, and Fairbanks Alaska; and raw data transmission to NASA Goddard Ocean Color Group for processing, renavigation, calibration, archive and distribution. Scheduling planned to maximize the number of images and downlinks per planning period within the constraints of the power budget and onboard storage capabilities of the satellite. 

International Ocean Color Community: partnership, at the international level, between the space agencies and the users of satellite-ocean-color data to develop and coordinate data utilization.  Free and open access to all HawkEye data products and data analysis, visualization and processing software from NASA. 



Hawkeye Image for NC Outer Banks  December 10, 2020 
(Size reduced for digital publication)


 Hawkeye for San Francisco to Monterey Bay  11012020
(Size reduced for digital publication)