February 27, 2024

Spotting pirates from space: French spacetech Unseenlabs raises €85m

The startup is working with governments around the world to track illegal activities at sea

French spacetech Unseenlabs has raised an €85m Series C which will enable the company to launch more satellites and increase its footprint in North America and Asia.

The round, which is a mix of equity and debt, was led by French investors Supernova Invest, ISALT and UNEXO, and included participation from all of Unseenlabs’ historical investors — French VCs 360 Capital, OMNES, Breizh Up and S2G Ventures, as well as public bank Bpifrance. 

Unseenlabs has built a satellite constellation that detects and tracks clandestine ships across the oceans.


Between 25-30% of the round is debt, which the startup secured from a consortium of regional and national banks. It brings total funding for the startup to €120m since it was founded in 2015.

What does Unseenlabs do?

Ships typically broadcast their position to other ships by enabling a tracker called the Automatic Identification System (AIS), but they can easily go “dark” by turning that off — typically to avoid detection during illegal operations like piracy, drug trafficking and unauthorised fishing.

Unseenlabs has deployed a constellation of 11 satellites, which it says is capable of tracking such ships globally by picking up the radio frequency signals they emit even when they’ve turned off other means of sharing their location, like AIS. 

“There are many things that emit a signal on a ship,” says Unseenlabs cofounder and CEO Clément Galic. “We’ve created a pool of those emitters that we follow.

“Our satellites are like large antennas in space that can detect these signals.”

After they are detected, ships are given an “electro-magnetic signature”, meaning it is also possible to track their movements. 

Unseenlabs sells this data to clients that have an interest in monitoring the comings and goings of ships in certain areas — mainly government organisations tracking illegal maritime activity.

Galic says the technology was able to track a ship that sailed through a lagoon in South-East Asia and tore out part of the coral reef. In another instance, it spotted a fleet of 250 ships practicing illegal fishing in the Indian economic zone.

The company has a contract with the French navy, and although it does not disclose specific organisations’ names, it says that it is working with governmental agencies in Canada and Japan.

Private actors are also increasingly taking interest in the technology, according to Galic, which could enable closer surveillance of high-risk zones, such as submarine cables or offshore energy platforms. 

An “acceleration round”

Having secured contracts with partners around the world, Unseenlabs has been profitable for two years, according to Galic. “The company is not in danger financially, we are very comfortable,” he says. “This fundraiser was more of an acceleration round.”


With this fresh injection of capital, the startup plans to launch an additional 10 satellites by 2025, which it says will improve the precision of the technology.

Galic says the next year will also see a commercial acceleration to expand the company’s client base, particularly in North America and Asia. The founder is planning to significantly increase the size of commercial teams and says the company will see its workforce of 70 double in the next four months. 

“We’ve shown that this is a good market with money to take, and this fundraise will enable us to stay ahead of competitors,” says Galic.

The company’s main competitor, US-based HawkEye 360 — which provides a similar space-based radio frequency mapping system — has raised $359m to date and has a constellation of 23 satellites.

Daphné Leprince-Ringuet

Daphné Leprince-Ringuet is a reporter for Sifted based in Paris and covering French tech. You can find her on X and LinkedIn