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Tip and Cue Monitoring Explained

The idea behind the “Tip and Cue” monitoring strategy is to use a more cost-effective, low-resolution satellite sensor to collect base data (low-resolution imagery) for a wide area of interest, often to confirm suspicions or verify the movements of vessels at sea.


Once the base data is collected from the low-resolution sensor, it is analyzed and relayed to the satellite with a higher-resolution sensor, which can narrow the focus of observation for a more defined analysis of activity, such as vessel movements and operations. 


While more costly to use, a high-resolution sensor can exploit highly-valuable insights into the physical conditions of an operational environment (i.e., oil terminals, trade ports, and known areas for open water Ship-to-Ship (STS) transfers). 


These data-backed insights allow entities with a stake in the maritime sector to better plan, manage, and execute tasks with a high level of certainty and uncover emerging trends and threats throughout the maritime domain. 


Space-based Tip and Cueing reduces operational costs and minimizes risks associated with broad-scale oversight and enforcement.


Tip and Cue Sensory Technologies

Satellites operated by companies like Spire Global, Planet Federal, and ICEYE are equipped with varying high-frequency remote sensors that provide accurate, real-time data with near-global coverage capabilities. 


These types of satellite sensors use different wavelengths and modalities to execute Tip and Cueing strategies, which include low-resolution optical imaging sensors with wide-range monitoring capabilities and high-resolution Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) sensors with a more defined scope of interest. 


The low-resolution optical sensors are used alongside high-resolution SAR sensors to bypass the limited capabilities of traditional optical sensors. 


Capability limitations of standard optical sensors are mainly described by the inability to see through variable weather and harsh environmental conditions or deliver images at night - issues that SAR technology solves with speed, accuracy, and efficiency. 


By using cost-effective, low-resolution optical sensing alongside high-resolution SAR imagery, public and private maritime authorities gain a more robust understanding of happenings within a target area or for an object of interest. 

Key Components of the Tip and Cue Process

Tip and Cueing is a highly-effective and accurate monitoring strategy that uses some of the world’s most advanced technology to deliver data in real time to those with interest. Still, Tip and Cue monitoring doesn’t come without its challenges.

For the following purposes, think of ‘Satellite A’ as the satellite equipped with a standard low-resolution, wide-range optical
sensor, and ‘Satellite B’ as having a high-resolution SAR sensor with a more defined range of focus. Satellite A collects the ‘base data’ and relays it to Satellite B, which then narrows the range and provides high-resolution imagery for further analysis. 

Latency Between Satellites


Low-latency satellite communication is one of the most important aspects of Tip and Cue monitoring. In this application, ‘Latency’ refers to the amount of time it takes for Satellite A to receive the base imaging data and process it for analysis, then send it to Satellite B.


Since Satellite B needs the data collected by Satellite A to make a more defined search, and since many instances in maritime monitoring are time sensitive, the faster the imaging data from Satellite A is available to Satellite B, the more likely the end-user will earn the results they are aiming for. 

Type of Object or Area of Interest Being Monitored


Tip and Cueing is dependent on many factors, with one of the most influential being the type of object or area of interest defined by the user. 



If an object or location within a ‘Tipping’ area is stationary, it will obviously make ‘Cueing’ that object or place less challenging. Instead of having to identify and track a moving object, the Cueing Satellite (Satellite B) only has to find a stationary point. For a satellite that is designed for high-resolution imaging data, there is no better scenario.




Moving objects, on the other hand, are more challenging for the ‘Cueing’ satellite to collect imaging from. Instead of collecting data from a single point of interest, Satellite B must simultaneously track the moving target, which involves knowing or estimating the object's speed and velocity, as well as tracking unpredictable changes in movement and direction, as you would observe with a ship. 


Because of this, an object with an uncertain velocity and/or trajectory becomes one of the critical components for a successful ‘Tip and Cue.’


Fortunately, many of the companies that can support Tip and Cue monitoring can also support vessel tracking in near-real time. While speed, velocity, and direction uncertainties convolute the process marginally, it’s relatively straightforward to manage. 

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Tip and Cue Automation

Human-driven data processes, as you may assume, involve a significant amount of human mediation. As with most technological applications, automation solves one of the biggest challenges associated with data-based analyses - human error. 


Since most automated Tip and Cue requirements focus on non-stationary object detection, tracking, and prediction modeling, an automated detection and tracking framework removes vulnerable mathematical complexities and provides more accurate prediction modeling for enhanced results to the end user. 


While not all space-based data providers are equipped with the resources to provide accurate, real-time Tip and Cue automation, there are companies that can solve automation-related challenges. Looking toward the future, you should expect to see these capabilities grow across the industry. But for now, look to those companies who are ahead of the curve. 

Tip and Cue Applications

Numerous applications for Tip and Cueing exist both in and out of the maritime domain.


Still, Tip and Cueing is a highly beneficial tactic for vessel monitoring at sea, so those with operational tangibility to the maritime sector stand to benefit strongly.

Vessel Tracking and Identification


Vessel identification and tracking, particularly for suspected dark shipping vessels, is one of the primary applications for Tip and Cue monitoring. 

Dark Shipping refers to vessels operating with their Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) turned off, which is most often done so that ships can operate unnoticed to carry out illicit activities such as the trade of sanctioned goods, undocumented calls to port, or 'Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated' (IUU) fishing. 

With Tip and Cue monitoring strategies, users can identify a specific vessel or a wide area of interest where dark fleets are suspected of operating, then narrow down the monitoring scope to better grasp what types of activities are actually occurring.


This gives maritime authorities a deeper understanding of dark shipping in a region or location, allowing them to build more robust monitoring and management strategies for the future. 

Location Based Monitoring 
Location-based Tip and Cue monitoring is often carried out at locations like trade ports, oil terminals, and marine protected areas, allowing users to monitor activity closely in the location and gain valuable insights into potential threats and other mishappenings. 
Threats include open water Ship-to-Ship (STS) transfers (often involving sanctioned goods and cargo), oil and gas movements, and IUU fishing - which compromises conservation efforts in protected marine areas. 
Emergency Response (Sinking Vessels, Man Overboard, Oil Spills...)
Another useful application of Tip and Cue monitoring involves supporting emergency response crews when accidents happen at sea.
Emergency response crews need reliable observation data when ships sink, a man or crew goes overboard, or when materials like oil or toxic waste spill into the ocean. 
By obtaining high-resolution imagery in key points of interest, emergency crews stand a better chance of locating and mitigating disasters at sea. 

Downstream Analytics


Downstream analytics can also benefit from the use of the complementary sensors used in Tip and Cue monitoring by using data assimilation to train machine learning (ML) technologies to optimize change detection analyses - using enhanced object detection and image segmentation pathways. 

Machine Learning technologies are a primary component of Tip and Cue automation, minimizing or eliminating the potential of human error when executing Tip and Cue processes manually.

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