COM DEV has developed satellite payload technology to solve the traditional challenges associated with space-based collection of AIS (Automatic Identification System) data, and is committed to commercialising it following a series of planned tests.
"Space-based collection of AIS data offers tremendous cost and performance advantages over existing methods of monitoring marine traffic," said John Keating, CEO of COM DEV.
"After more than two years of work we have developed a very promising solution that is ready to be validated under real world conditions. The potential market for this technology is significant, and we believe we are well positioned to become world leaders."
AIS data is currently collected primarily from other ships and land-based receivers with a range of approximately 50 nautical miles. COM DEV says that a reliable satellite-based collection system would eliminate the 50-mile limitation as well as the need to build large numbers of ground stations along the world's coastlines.
Existing AIS transmissions can be received from space, but the company says that the primary technical barrier to a space-based system has been "de-colliding" the cacophony of signals received simultaneously from hundreds or even thousands of vessels in a satellite field of view.
COM DEV has developed a proprietary de-collision process that is capable of separating the multitude of AIS signals into useful information. The satellite payloads, which would fly in low-earth orbit, would make immediate use of over US $300 million of AIS equipment already installed by the global shipping industry, and would include an onboard encryption system to maintain data security.
COM DEV is conducting a number of tests to validate its AIS technology, beginning with an aircraft trial in November 2007. The next stage will involve a prototype test in orbit aboard a nanosatellite currently under construction at the University of Toronto's Institute for Aerospace Studies Space Flight Laboratory (UTIAS/SFL) targeted for launch in the second quarter of 2008.
The final test will utilise a dedicated microsatellite capable of demonstrating the full commercial viability of the technology.
The Canadian Department of National Defence (DND), Project Polar Epsilon, has signed a small contract with COM DEV to obtain data which it will use to evaluate the results of the trials to assess the suitability of the advanced AIS system for operational requirements.
Polar Epsilon is a DND capital project to exploit space-based capabilities in support of Canadian Arctic and marine surveillance, and is especially interested in the potential for space-based AIS technology to assist with its objective of monitoring shipping traffic in the Canadian Arctic.
COM DEV hopes that over 40 AIS payloads could be in orbit by 2015.