Space-Based Vessel Tracking

Posted by Sam Churchill on

Globalstar today announced that six new Globalstar second-generation satellites have been rolled out to the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in preparation for a scheduled launch on Wednesday, December 28th.

Wednesday’s scheduled liftoff will be the third launch of Globalstar’s second-generation constellation satellites. The Company has contracted with launch services provider Arianespace for a total of four launches of six satellites per launch (pdf).

The first two 2nd generation launches were successfully conducted in October of 2010 and July of this year.

The second-generation Globalstar satellites, built by Thales Alenia Space, will support Globalstar’s mobile satellite voice and data services for commercial and government customers in more than 120 countries.

The Globalstar second-generation satellite constellation is expected to bring back voice services to Globalstar which has seen their first generation transponders deteriorate forcing the company to generate revenue from consumer-focused SPOT Satellite GPS Messenge service.

Globalstar’s consumer-oriented Spot GPS trackers and messenger products have been largely unaffected from the problems faced by the loss of 2-way voice services.

Globalstar’s LEO constellation supports handheld satphones. The company competes directly with Iridium’s LEO satphone service.

Meanwhile, Orbcomm today announced that their VesselSat2 AIS satellite is ready to go. LuxSpace shipped the satellite to the China’s Tiayuan Satellite Launch Center for launch date on January 10, 2012. Orbcomm is a global satellite data communications company focused on two-way data communications (no voice).

Each Orbcomm satellite is equipped with VHF and UHF radios capable of operation in the 137.0-150.05 MHz and the 400.075-400.125 MHz bands. It relays data from remote sites and can remotely track assets.

ORBCOMM transponders are installed on trucks, containers, marine vessels, locomotives, backhoes, pipelines, oil wells, utility meters, storage tanks and other assets. Its StarTrak subsidiary provides tracking, monitoring and control services for the refrigerated transport market under its ReeferTrak and GenTrak brands.

Orbcomm is the exclusive licensee for AIS data collected by VesselSat1 and VesselSat2. AIS data is used for ship tracking and other maritime navigational and safety efforts.

The Automatic Identification System enables anyone to track vessels inexpensively. AIS uses a ship’s VHF radio. It transmits the ship’s name, heading, speed and GPS location every two minutes or so to a terrestrial receiver. But AIS signal range is limited and does not extend to the open ocean.

Space-based AIS could take it from there (although location information in the open ocean may be restricted to paid subscribers). Mobile AIS apps for iPhone and Android are available, too. They show current commercial vessel locations on your phone or tablet at little or no cost. In the future, Radar MASINT may be able to identify unmarked vessels.

VesselSat1 (pdf) was launched into an equatorial orbit on October 12, 2012, and is now providing full commercial service. VesselSat2 will be launched into a polar orbit, providing complete coverage of the Earth, including the North and South Poles. The two satellites will be leased to Orbcomm as a replacement for the lost capability of the malfunctioning Orbcomm Quick Launch satellites. The loss of Orbcomm’s earlier AIS-equipped satellite in late 2010 deprived the company of about $700,000 in revenue during the first three months of 2011, Orbcomm said in its SEC filing.

VesselSat1 and VesselSat2 will supplement ORBCOMM’s next generation constellation (pdf). Some 18 AIS-enabled satellites are currently under construction by Sierra Nevada Corporation. SpaceX will launch these 18 satellites next year.

Orbcomm’s 27 current-generation satellites operate for the most part in an 825-kilometer orbit inclined 45 degrees relative to the equator. The second generation will be placed into a 52 degree inclination, an orbit that gives better coverage of northern latitudes to enhance Orbcomm’s AIS maritime coverage.

Orbcomm is in a race to be first to market with a global AIS service. Canada’s Com Dev, and its subsidiary ExactEarth, and several government agencies in Europe are developing competing systems. The first Norwegian AIS Satellite, AISSat-1, has been operational for over a year.

Canada’s Com Dev claims their patented technology for “message de-collision” is superior to what Orbcomm uses. Com Dev’s technology is based on bypassing on-board processing on the satellites in favor of sending down raw message data to ground terminals. These terminals then separate hundreds of thousands of ship messages — up to 1.5 million per day per satellite — and deliver them to coastal authorities.

ExactEarth claims to be the world’s leading Satellite-based vessel monitoring service. They successfully launched two advanced AIS satellites this summer. Their spacecraft were built by SpaceQuest.

Their COM DEV core technology is said to enable ExactEarth to filter out all but a very specific VHF portion of the signals dedicated to AIS. To achieve global AIS coverage with a latency of about 10 minutes about 30 satellites are required.

COM DEV has calculated that only three satellites are needed to provide a six hour “revisit time”. According to CEO John Keating, “If you put three satellites in polar orbits that takes 100 minutes to complete, 120 degrees apart from one another, then [due to the earth’s rotation] you can see any point on earth within six hours – you may be over the poles once every 30 minutes, but you are everywhere over the equator once every six hours.”

ExactEarth AIS satellites pass over Norway’s Svalbard Earth Station every 90 to 100 minutes. AIS tracks vessel movements in near real-time and updates every two minutes when near shore stations. Terrestrial AIS transponders, using frequencies near 150 MHz, can’t reach ships in the open ocean. Small messaging satellites can.

Ship tracking applications for Android include Ship Finder and VTExplorer,, and Vessel Tracker while iPhone AIS applications include AIS Live, Ship Finder HD Free, Marine Traffic, iNavX and GTrax.

In other news, China announced limited GPS positioning service Tuesday, on their own satellite system. The Chinese Compass navigation system (Beidou) is now providing services for China and “surrounding areas”, according to the Xinhua agency.

China expects to provide worldwide service by 2020 and launch another six satellites in 2012 to expand it to most of the Asia-Pacific region. The Chinese system will be a constellation of 35 satellites, which include 5 geostationary orbit (GEO) satellites and 30 medium Earth orbit (MEO) satellites. So far, China has launched 10 satellites for the Beidou system.

GNSS Constellations include the US Global Positioning System the Russian GLObal NAvigation Satellite System (GLONASS), the planned European Union Galileo positioning system, the Chinese Compass navigation system and the plannedIndian Regional Navigational Satellite System.

Qualcomm announced GLONASS support in May, spurred in part by a new Russian government requirement that phones sold there include GLONASS or pay additional import taxes. The majority of new Qualcomm S2 and S3 processors support GLONASS, which should increase the availability of a satellite fix.

The first two Galileo satellites were launched October 21st and are now being tested. The Galileo PRN 11 started transmitting the first navigation signal last Saturday. Two more test satellites will follow in 2012. Additional satellites will be launched to reach Initial Operational Capability (IOC) around mid-decade. A fully deployed Galileo system would consist of 30 satellites (27 operational + 3 active spares), positioned in three circular Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) planes.

Related DailyWireless stories include; AIS Space Race , Small Satellite Conference Celebrates 25 Years, Orbcomm’s Space-based AIS Fails, Shipboard AIS Fused with Radar, Arctic Technology, Amazon Cloud for Ocean Observatories, Tracking Roz, the Ocean Rower, Darkness for New Dawn Satellite? , Lightsquared Unfurled, Satellite with 328 ft Antenna to Launch , Geosync Spies, F.I.A. FUBAR, Advanced EHF – Wait for It, AEHF Satellite – Billion Dollar Brick?,

Posted by Sam Churchill on Tuesday, December 27th, 2011 at 10:57 am .

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