Satellite to Demonstrate Maritime Surveillance for Coast Guard
Reported by Stew Magnuson and Breanne Wagner
The Coast Guard will enter the space age when a rocket carrying an experimental payload lifts off at the end of 2007 from the Kapustin Yar launch site in Russia.
Designed to track vessels far from U.S. shores, the payload is outfitted with a receiver that will collect ship identification data and transmit it to ground-based Coast Guard stations.
“Significant ship-tracking capabilities could be accomplished far out to sea if a receiver were placed on a spacecraft,” said Dana Goward, director of the Coast Guard’s maritime domain awareness program.
The unnamed concept demonstration payload -- built by ORBCOMM Inc. of Fort Lee, N.J. -- was slated for launch in late December aboard a Cosmos rocket. The Coast Guard awarded ORBCOMM a $7.9 million contract in 2004 to develop and demonstrate the ship-tracking technology on board a spacecraft. The payload was placed on one of ORBCOMM’s new satellites.
While in low-earth orbit, the receiver will collect information from ships equipped with the automatic identification system, or AIS, which is a vessel tracking system that all large vessels are required to use. The information is transmitted via the Global Positioning System, sensors and digital radio signals, the Coast Guard Navigation Center website said.
The Coast Guard hopes to use the technology for its future nationwide automatic identification system (NAIS), which is the service’s three-stage plan to extend its ability to track and identify vessels. The first stage will track ships near 55 critical ports. The second stage calls for AIS tracking as far out as 50 nautical miles.
Satellites will be added in the final stage, and along with a network of offshore platforms and buoys, are expected to identify ships as far as 2,000 nautical miles. The system is expected to be operational in 2014, according to the service.
Space-based technology can capture far-reaching vessel tracking information that would be harder to acquire using ground- or sea-based systems, said Greg Flessate, ORBCOMM vice president of sales and government services. Satellite surveillance is the preferred method because its is the most cost effective option in relation to the amount of area that sensors cover. They “extend beyond the terrestrial base … each one leaves a 3,000 mile footprint,” he said.
No subsequent contracts have been issued, Flessate said. But even if the company does not receive additional contracts, it will still test out AIS technology for commercial purposes.
“We plan to make a business out of it,” Flessate said.
Along with the Coast Guard spacecraft, ORBCOMM will launch five company-funded AIS-equipped satellites on the same booster. They will replenish ORBCOMM’s existing constellation. AIS receivers will be integrated into its system whether or not the Coast Guard becomes a customer, said Flessate. Up to 25 AIS-equipped satellites could be in space by 2011, he added.
Other customers could include the Navy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, insurance firms and trucking companies, he said. The company maintains a 29-satellite constellation to provide two-way data subscription communication services for commercial trucking, railcars, oil wells and marine vessels.
A commercial firm has never attempted space-based AIS data collection, but the military successfully proved satellites could pick up the signals in December 2006 during a TacSat-2 experiment, said Chris Huffine from the Naval Research Laboratory.