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Transportation Earth Science Technology

ISS Can Now Watch Sea Traffic From Space 89

gyrogeerloose writes "During its last mission, astronauts from the Space Shuttle Atlantis installed an Automatic Identification System antenna on the outside of the International Space Station that will allow astronauts aboard the ISS to monitor signals from the AIS transmitters mandated to be installed on most large ocean-going craft. Although these VHF signals can be monitored from the Earth's surface, their horizontal range is generally limited to about 75 km (46 mi), leaving large areas of the ocean unwatched. However, the signals easily reach the 400 km (250 mi) orbit of the ISS. The European Space Agency sees this experiment as a test platform for a future AIS-monitoring fleet of satellites that will eventually provide worldwide coverage of sea traffic."
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ISS Can Now Watch Sea Traffic From Space

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  • Crap (Score:5, Funny)

    by Dyinobal ( 1427207 ) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @03:32PM (#30337444)
    How long before I get pulled over for speeding in the trade lanes?
    • Not crap!

      Think of what fun it'd be using lasers to blast pirates!

      • Re: (Score:1, Redundant)

        by Winkhorst ( 743546 )
        While you are at it you might want to blast the ships dumping toxic waste in the Gulf of Aden. Wonder if they'll be trackable from space.
    • Re:Crap (Score:4, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 05, 2009 @04:09PM (#30337770)

      "Speed Limit Enforced By Spacecraft."

      I can't wait to see the icon on the sign. ... not to mention the defense attorneys going for the relativistic measurement argument. "Your Honor, we would like to question the prosecution's derivation of gamma."

    • Hopefully an international treaty which would let any government police sea traffic for speed will never happen. Meantime the space antenna can help prevent collisions by setting a sea traffic control, with an early warning system for ships that get to close, it needn't be that quick, oil tankers and stopped times of the order an hour!


      Space Craft [] Feed @ Feed Distiller []

  • Where else would they be watching sea traffic from?

    • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      Where else would they be watching sea traffic from?

      Satellite? Maybe they are trying to find a way to justify the boondoggle ISS.

      • He was obviouslyreferring to the title
        ISS Can Now Watch Sea Traffic From Space
      • A reason other than 'justifying' the space station would be that it is likely a lot cheaper to run a test like this on the ISS than to launch one or more test satellites that each require their own power systems, etc.

        • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

          I'm skeptical. Perhaps quicker set-up turnaround, but not necessarily cheaper.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by R3d M3rcury ( 871886 )

            Well, it depends on how you do your accounting...

            Obviously, it's more expensive to put a space station in orbit in order to test a transmitter. The idea behind ISS, though, is that we pay for it to be up there so that we can put experiments into orbit without building all of the necessary hardware for a satellite. It makes it cheaper for groups wishing to do experiments in orbit because the rest of us subsidize the orbital hardware (ie, the ISS). Because we must supply the ISS, we also subsidize getting

            • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

              The cost to put a certain weight into orbit is roughly the same regardless of payload. If it's a small payload, then usually it's batched with other objects, such as other satellites because it's cheaper to manage the launch of multiple things instead of one. The overhead of life-support and human safety systems on ISS is also a cost factor that should be considered.

    • Outer space.
    • Re:Where else... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Winkhorst ( 743546 ) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @04:42PM (#30338078)
      They're already watching sea traffic from space. What this does is allow them to quickly remove "legitimate" traffic from the database so they can focus on traffic that's antithetical to the Empire.
  • by Snowblindeye ( 1085701 ) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @03:56PM (#30337650)

    There are several websites that show at least coastal traffic of all AIS equipped vessels. I like []

  • by TheModelEskimo ( 968202 ) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @03:57PM (#30337660)
    He is gonna be HUGE.
  • Coverage map (Score:5, Informative)

    by Animats ( 122034 ) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @03:58PM (#30337662) Homepage

    Here's the map of existing coverage. [] The continental US, Europe, and Japan, have full coastal coverage. The port coasts of China and Australia are covered. Beyond that, not so much.

    This isn't a safety system. It's for traffic and port management. Vessels show up in the system around the time when ports need to start thinking about where to put them.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      But with some well-placed space-based antennas, it could become a bit of a safety system too.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by enosys ( 705759 )

      That's just the coverage available on one particular website. (Other sites can have different data sources and different coverage.) Also, those rectangles just mean that there is some coverage within the rectangle. (Often, coverage is available around larger cities and a lot of the area is not covered.)

      Furthermore, AIS is sometimes used for collision avoidance, so it is used for safety.

    • AIS data is also used for things like oil spills and search and rescue. When I used to work for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority we had a couple incidents where the AIS data was used to reconstruct the events leading up to the disaster (such as the pacific adventurer [] one earlier this year). They also use it to track any vessels going near the Great Barrier Reef without having a qualified pilot on board (basically someone who knows their way around the reef) so the vessel doesn't crash into anything.

  • No surprise really (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    This is a pretty common and extremely cheap sensor to put in space. Multiple tiny satellites have demonstrated the utility of an AIS sensor in space.

    In space these are mainly used to track ships who might be up to no good on open water. Also you can fuse the data with radar satellite wake detection, any detected ship with their signal turned off also might be up to no good. Canada is doing just this with M3MSat and Radarsat-2

    • by anethema ( 99553 )
      Why would a ship 'up to no good' be broadcasting AIS ? And wake detection to see if someone is up to no good doesn't seem any good either since anything under a certain size isn't even required to transmit AIS in the first place.
  • Insert obligatory foil hat quip here.
  • I'm pissed (Score:2, Funny)

    by exsequor ( 1129529 )
    This completely screws up my plans to grow cannabis on my yacht...
  • Why ISS? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by photonic ( 584757 ) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @04:38PM (#30338040)
    Anyone knows what are the advantages of using ISS for this kind of test? I would be interested to see what it costs to send such an antenna up with the shuttle, test that it does not interfere with the rest of the station and train an astronaut to fix it to the exterior, versus just slapping it as secondary payload on some other satellite or even some dedicated micro-satellite that is piggybacking on the launch of a bigger one.
    • The orbit? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by argent ( 18001 )

      The ISS operates at a relatively low orbit, even for LEO... for example the Iridium constellation is about twice the ISS' altitude (760km vs 350km). They'd have to find a mission that's within the 400km range of the system, and that has room and power to spare.

    • Re:Why ISS? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by TooMuchToDo ( 882796 ) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @07:08PM (#30339188)
      They we're going there anyway? In essence, they *are* just piggybacking on a bigger launch (the shuttle's primary mission). Your only cost is the EVA time, cost of the device/antenna, and the additional weight for launch.
    • by GPSguy ( 62002 )

      It's not cheap but the development lifecycle could well be shorter than for a secondary on an unmanned spacecraft. And, since it's VHF, I guess there's an outside chance that, instead of a dedicated antenna (which wouldn't be too hard) they could have piggybacked on the new (or the remaining old) ARISS antenna.

      Packets in space isn't new by a long-shot and tracking in space isn't, really, either.

  • Uses? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    So is this going to be used to find the best spot to crash ISS 2 years after it is completed, just in the unlikely chance that large parts reach the ground?

  • AIS on the IIS is amusing, but not all that helpful. SpaceQuest, ORBCOMM, and COM DEV all have space based AIS systems up...
    • AIS on the IIS is amusing, but not all that helpful. SpaceQuest, ORBCOMM, and COM DEV all have space based AIS systems up...

      Specifically, COM DEV has CanX-6 [] (also known as NTS, or Nanosatellite Tracking Ships) which has been operating on orbit for over a year now. NTS is much smaller than the ISS too, measuring in at 6.5 kg for a 20 cm x 20 cm x 20 cm cube. NTS went from bar-napkin concept to launch in just 7 months.

      The UTIAS Space Flight Laboratory [] (the organization that designed and built NTS for COM DEV) is also working on a Norwegian satellite called AISSat-1 [] that is due to launch in the coming months. While the same size an

  • Cool ... use it to predict the next financial crash.

  • This is really cool -- Ham radio has been doing almost exactly this for years [].

    A ground station with nothing more than a 5 Watt handheld VHF transmitter and a regular 19" long antenna can send a position report and message via a number of satellites, including the International Space Station, using a protocol called APRS. As these are low-earth orbit satellites, you generally only have a few minutes window with each pass, but it's not terribly hard to do and there are a few satellites to potentially catch p

1 Mole = 007 Secret Agents