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Com Dev International said on Wednesday it will launch a satellite service within 12 months for use in maritime vessel tracking.

Through its ExactEarth subsidiary, the Ontario-based company expects to launch its first three Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) microsatellites and inaugurate the service by early 2010.

AIS operates like air traffic control for ships. It works by integrating a standardized VHF transceiver system with LORAN-C or GPS, and other navigational sensors on board ship (gyrocompass, rate of turn indicator, etc.). A VHF radio can receive the message blips and integrate hundreds of ship locations that can be moused over for the ship’s name, current speed and location.

AIS can place a moving icon on Google Maps, complete with identification, position, course, and speed. This information can be displayed on a computer screen or Electronic Chart Display. When the latest GPS 2R-19 satellite completes testing and enters service in a few weeks, the spacecraft it is replacing will become the constellation’s second available backup. AIS re-transmits GPS coordinates, along with bearing and speed.

Here’s the real-time traffic near the Port of Portland posted on MarineTraffic.com, a mashup which was developed and hosted by the University of the Aegean in Greece.

Yesterday while watching ship traffic depart Portland, I discovered that the Research Vessel Atlantis was coming into port in Astoria. It’s carrying the deep sea submersible Alvin. Here is the track of the RV Atlantis and the Atlantis 2009 ship schedule. I’m headed off to see it tomorrow — thanks to AIS!

More than 70,000 ships worldwide already have AIS transmitters, but the curvature of the Earth limits reception of the signals. ComDev satellites will cover the Earth’s entire surface, including the polar regions.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) requires AIS equipment to be installed on commercial vessels of 65 feet or more in length; tankers; passenger vessels exceeding 150 gross tons or certificated to carry more than 150 passengers; and vessels exceeding 300 gross tons. A deep-water port is any port that can accommodate a fully laden Panamax ship (that fits through the Panama Canal).

HiSeasNet, a satellite communications network designed specifically to provide continuous Internet connectivity for oceanographic research ships and platforms, is available on the Atlantis.

A real-time, high-definition video from underwater volcanoes off the Washington-British Columbia coastlines (above), was transmitted from the seafloor robot JASON to the Research Vessel Thompson in 2005, through an electro-optical tether, using both shipboard and live sub-sea HD imagery. Encoded in real-time in MPEG-2 HD format, it was delivered to shore via the Galaxy 10R communication satellite using the HiSeasNet shipboard system modified to accommodate these high data rates.

Soon, research vessels like the R/V Atlantis could get broadband wireless from Inmarsat’s BGAN, ICO or Terrastar. A Hughes 9201 WiFi-enabled satellite terminal ($2,400) can deliver 492 Kbps.

Electrobit’s Quad-band GSM-satellite phone (above) can communicate directly to Terrastar. It has a touch screen, a full QWERTY keyboard, integrated Bluetooth, WiFi, USB and GPS and can also use terrestrial GSM networks. Apple’s new 3Gs enables anyone to shoot and upload video. Companies like Qik and Ustream can stream video live with a Nokia N-95 cellphone. The Eye-Fi Pro Card ($149), enables Ad Hoc connections for still cameras along with RAW and selective uploads. A Wi-Fi enabled satphone terminal might provide the local link.

The JOIDES Resolution and the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program are designed to sample the ocean’s microfossil record, going back 50 million years. This month they’re studying cores of ooze and sediment at five locations running northwest from just above the Equator.

John Delany’s Neptune Project, now called the Ocean Observatories Initiative will soon deliver Gigabit connectivity from the Ocean floor.

Geologist Brian Atwater (below) shows a cross-section of cedar killed by the last Cascadia earthquake in January, 1700. Atwater discovered proof that a recurrant massive subduction zone tsunami hits the West Coast every 300-450 years. The US Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program has mapped the west coast of the United States.

The Cascadia Subduction Zone Quake will generate two Tsunami waves, one propagating towards the coast, and the other towards the deep ocean and Hawaii. It will take only minutes to reach the coasts of Oregon, Washington, southern British Columbia, and northern California with wave heights reaching close to 12m (~36ft) in some scenarios. An international warning system in the Pacific was created in 1965. The system is administered by the U.S.-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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