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AIS space receiver

ASR x50

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AISSat-1 is a nano satellite measuring 20 x 20 x 20 cm. It weights six kilograms and is shaped like a cube. The payload of the satellite is designed by Kongsberg Seatex AS. The purpose of the satellite is to improve surveillance of maritime activities in the High North.

What is AIS?

AIS is a short range coastal traffic system used by ships and Vessel Traffic Services around the world. AIS is required to be fitted on every seagoing vessel of 300 gross tons or more. Its purpose is to help ship crews to avoid collision with other vessels as well as to allow maritime authorities to track and monitor ship movements. Today's AIS allows ships to communicate with other ships and land based base stations through VHF signals. This means that it is not possible to communicate outside the field of vision.

AIS in a satellite

AIS coverage illustration
Coverage area using satellite versus using conventional AIS base stations.

An AIS receiver in a satellite will extend the range considerably and make it easier to monitor ship traffic and fishing in the High North. The altitude of the satellite gives the AIS receiver a long range and the satellite can therefore make observations over large sea areas. The signals are strong enough to be received by a satellite in low Earth orbit.

It is believed that the low traffic density in the High North requires one receiver and antennae only to handle the expected volume of AIS messages. AISSat-1 is being launched in order to test these presumptions. The Norwegian AIS receiver is placed in a custom made Canadian satellite platform, built by the University of Toronto. The satellite's life span is estimated to three years. AISSat-1 will operate in a polar orbit at an altitude of 600 km. It will be launched by an Indian PSLV rocket from ISRO's facilities in Sriharikota in early May.

A collaboration

The AIS satellite
The nano AIS satellite measuring 20 x 20 x 20 cm.

The Norwegian Space Centre is project owner. The Norwegian Coastal Administration will receive the data and the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI) is responsible for the technical implementation. Payload design is made by Kongsberg Seatex. The total cost of the satellite is approximately NOK 30 million. After launch, FFI will start testing the polar orbiting satellite. FFI will control it for about a year before Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT) takes over and the Norwegian Coastal Administration starts to integrate the AIS data in the current land based AIS system. AISSat-1 has been met with interest internationally. ESA has asked FFI and Norwegian companies to take part in a study on a satellite based AIS solution for the whole of Europe, while both USA and Canada has shown keen interest in the project.

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