Boosting marine traffic monitoring via satellite
15 July 2014
ESA will improve the identification and tracking of seafaring vessels anywhere on Earth from 2018 under a public–private partnership with LuxSpace of Luxembourg and exactEarth of Canada, signed today at the UK's premier airshow. Existing marine traffic control, which is based on radio links, is limited to coastal areas and even near shore can still have signal gaps. The system was originally developed to prevent collisions but it now also tracks ships to help prevent pollution, aids in the movement of dangerous goods and offers routine surveillance.
Large vessels and all passenger ships irrespective of size are mandated by the International Maritime Organization to carry Automatic Identification System (AIS) equipment. It transmits the course and speed as well as identification and position information to other vessels and shore stations.
While AIS has been deployed globally, it suffers from a major limitation because Earth's curvature limits its horizontal range to about 74 km from shore. This means that AIS traffic information sent out by ship beacons is available only around coastal zones or on a ship-to-ship basis.
Satellites are the answer: the ship's identity and position are recorded by satellite then sent to ground stations for processing and distribution.
ESA is promoting 'SAT-AIS' in partnership with the European Maritime Safety Agency to meet the requirements of users, particularly those of government agencies such as coastal administrations.