August 13, 2008

From Russia With Love: New Ais Satellite for U.S. Coast Guard

By Blenkey, Nick

(ProQuest: ... denotes text stops here in original.) Thanks, in part, to the Russian Strategic Missile Forces, the U.S. Coast Guard should soon have a greatly enhanced maritime domain awareness capability. Last month saw the launch of six Orbcomm satellites from Kapustin Yar, Russia, using a Russian Cosmos launch vehicle.

The satellites, which are being integrated into Orbcomm's existing 29 satellite constellation, are a U.S. Coast Guard satellite and five Orbcomm QuickLaunch satellites.

The U.S. Coast Guard Nationwide Automatic Identification System (NAIS) Project sponsored equipment on the Coast Guard satellite to test the feasibility and effectiveness of AIS message reception and reporting from space for ship tracking and other navigational activities.

The Coast Guard says the launch marks an important milestone in the development of the NAIS project.

The NAIS project will improve maritime domain awareness for the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Department of Homeland Security by using the integrated network of AIS equipment and user interface services that display and exchange AIS-equipped vessel information for maritime safety and security. Data collected by the NAIS, says the Coast Guard, supports the nation's maritime interests by promoting vessel and port safety through collision avoidance, and through detection, traffic identification, and classification of vessels out to 2,000 nautical miles from shore.

Currently, NAIS has the capability to receive AIS messages at 55 critical ports and nine coastal areas across the nation. Increment two of the program(with nationwide AIS transmit and receipt coverage) will provide the capability to receive AIS messages out to 50 nautical miles and transmit AIS messages out to 24 nautical miles along the entire coastline of the U.S. and designated inland waterways. Increment three will extend the coverage for receipt of AIS messages out to 2,000 nautical miles from shore. The satellite testing will assist in the development of Increment three of the NAIS project.

Interestingly, all of the six satellites just put into orbit by Orbcomm carry AIS payloads.

Orbcomm says it has been working closely with the Coast Guard on the AIS project, and also intends to market AIS data to other U.S. and international government agencies, as well as to what is describes as "companies whose businesses require such information."

"This is an important step for us and our customers," said Marc Eisenberg, ORBCOMM's CEO. "With the successful launch of these six new satellites, we expect to both improve the quality of our service and enter the AIS data services business. The AIS capability onboard these satellites make Orbcomm the only company capable of providing space based worldwide commercial AIS data services."

Orbcomm may soon have some competition, though.

Canada's Com Oev International Ltd. has just been awarded an $8.6 million contract to design, build and launch a micro-satellite for the Government of Canada. The Maritime Monitoring and Messaging Micro-satellite (MSMSat) is a technology demonstration mission jointly funded and managed by Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). The spacecraft "will support Canadian sovereignty, security, safety and communications needs within the territorial and maritime regions of Canada and beyond."

M3MSat is expected to "demonstrate the full capability of advanced spaced-based AIS technology developed by Com Dev" which is claimed to "exceed the performance of any other known system ...

Copyright Simmons-Boardman Publishing Corporation Jul 2008

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