Tag Archive for: Maritime


Leaders of the United States, Japan, India and Australia have agreed to launch a satellite-based initiative to help countries in the Indo-Pacific region track illegal fishing and other suspicious maritime activities.

The maritime monitoring pledge is part of a broader set of peace, security, science and technology agreements reached during the four-nation Quadrilateral Security Dialogue’s  May 24 summit in Japan’s capital, Tokyo. Because the Quad is a U.S.-led security forum aimed at countering China, the monitoring effort is likely to focus on China’s maritime activities in the region.

“We strongly oppose any coercive, provocative or unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo and increase tensions in the area, such as the militarization of disputed features, the dangerous use of coast guard vessels and maritime militia, and efforts to disrupt other countries’ offshore resource exploitation activities,” the leaders said in a joint statement released after their meeting. The statement did not explicitly name China. They said the satellite-based maritime domain awareness initiative will “promote stability and prosperity in our seas and oceans.”

In comments to reporters May 24, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the summit was to discuss and advance “practical cooperation” in the Indo-Pacific region, not to target any particular country, the South China Morning Post reported. But the prime minister noted that the four countries expressed “grave concern” over “China unilaterally changing the status quo in the East and South China Seas.”

Along with Biden, who is on his first tour of Asia as U.S. president, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the new Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese flew to Japan for the day-long meeting. The leaders of the four nations last met in person in September, in Washington.

On top of this, the four leaders agreed to improve public access to Earth-observation satellite data and applications by opening a “Quad Satellite Data Portal” that aggregates links to respective national satellite data resources. This overture is part of efforts they seek to address global challenges such as climate change with space-related applications and technologies.

“Space-related applications and technologies can also contribute to addressing common challenges such as climate change, disaster preparedness and response, and sustainable uses of oceans and marine resources,” they said in the statement. “We will work together to develop space applications, including in the area of Earth observations, and provide capacity building support to countries in the region, including with regards to partnering on using space capabilities to respond to extreme precipitation events.” 

The leaders also agreed to hold joint workshops to promote rules, norms, guidelines and principles for the sustainable use of space.


The Arctic Observing Mission (AOM) pending approval, plans to send two satellites into highly elliptical orbits to maximize their view of northern regions while gathering data on meteorological conditions, greenhouse gases, air quality and space weather.

With Arctic aviation and maritime activity on the rise, Europe and Canada are taking the lead in developing weather satellites to gather global data and improve observation of the Earth’s northernmost latitudes.

A consortium led by OHB Sweden AB is developing a prototype for the European Space Agency’s Arctic Weather Satellite, a proposed constellation of 16 small satellites in polar orbit to gather weather data, under a 32.5 million euro ($34.8 million) European Space Agency contract awarded last year.

The prototype, scheduled to launch in 2024, will be equipped with a microwave radiometer being developed by AAC Omnisys. Thales Alenia Space is the prime contractor for the Arctic Weather Satellite ground segment.

The Arctic Weather Satellite mission “will greatly benefit the Arctic region and the globe with better weather predictions as the current systems do not provide the coverage and latency (to be implemented through a follow on constellation),” Bastiaan Lagaune, OHB Sweden space business engineer, told SpaceNews by email.

Geostationary weather satellites orbiting the equator provide ongoing observation of weather conditions at Earth’s mid-latitudes. To forecast weather conditions at higher latitudes, meteorologists wait for polar-orbiting satellites to circle the globe and relay observations.

In contrast, the Arctic Weather Satellite constellation “will ultimately provide an almost constant stream of temperature and humidity from every location on Earth, which will allow very short-range weather forecasting,” Lagaune added.

Frequent Arctic weather observations, for example, could benefit “the maritime sector which is planning to use the Northern Sea routes more and more with the changing Arctic sea conditions due to climate change,” Lagaune said. “Having accurate weather predictions in this harsh and remote environment are vital in ensuring safe and efficient transportation.”

The Canadian Space Agency, meanwhile, is working with Environment and Climate Change Canada and Natural Resources Canada on a two-year campaign to evaluate the cost and potential benefits of a proposed Arctic Observing Mission.

Preliminary plans call for the satellites to be equipped with spectrometers to track greenhouse gas emissions, a space weather sensor and a meteorological imager.

International partners could play important roles in the AOM program, said Ray Nassar, AOM principal investigator at Environment and Climate Change Canada.

“Some possibilities include NASA or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration contributing the space weather instrument suite,” Nassar said by email. “NOAA could potentially also contribute a spare flight model of the Advanced Baseline Imager.”

The Advanced Baseline Imager is the primary instrument on the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R Series.

Canada expects AOM to play an important role in an international constellation for weather, air quality and greenhouse gases.

“It would enhance these constellations with Northern observations in all of these three disciplines with free and open data for the international community,” Nassar said in a presentation at the American Meteorological Society annual meeting in January.

If the project wins Canadian government funding in 2025, AOM satellites could launch in the early 2030s.

A few years ago, NOAA also considered sending a weather satellite into a high-inclination Tundra orbit to enhance observation of northern latitudes. After evaluating the value of those observations against the program’s cost, though, NOAA opted to augment the data collected by its constellation of polar-orbiting satellites with observations made by international partners.


Satellite service provider Inmarsat has contracted with Airbus Defence and Space to deliver three new satellites to upgrade capacity and enhance the Global Xpress (GX) and Fleet Xpress services. The partnership will provide a step-change in GX’s capabilities, capacity and agility for the benefit of existing and future Inmarsat customers, partners and investors.

The new geostationary satellites will provide the platform for a transformational upgrade in Fleet Xpress on close to 7,000 ships worldwide helping enable digitalisation at sea.

Inmarsat’s GX network was first designed in 2010 and began global services in 2015. This created the world’s first and only seamless global mobile broadband network. Inmarsat has since grown GX revenues strongly and established leading positions in the emerging global Maritime through Fleet Xpress, Aviation and Government mobile satellite broadband markets, with GX revenues increasing by 85% to $250.9m in 2018.

As part of this growth, Fleet Xpress was brought to market in March 2016, with a quartet of fifth generation GX satellites now providing its maritime broadband component using Inmarsat’s I-4 satellites. Last year, market analyst Euroconsult indicated that Fleet Xpress is the fastest growing VSAT provider to the maritime industry.

The announcement marks the beginning of the next phase of GX’s evolution, enhancing global mobile broadband coverage with a transformation in network capacity and service capability. This transformation, together with the unparalleled agility of the next-generation satellites, will ensure GX remains at the forefront of innovation for the benefit of customers and partners.

This contract with Airbus is for the manufacture of three next-generation GX satellites (GX7, 8 & 9), with the first scheduled to launch in H1 2023. The level of capital expenditure under this programme is in line with that provided for in our long term planning. As such, there is no change to our overall capex guidance on the back of today’s announcement.

This network development encompasses a major enhancement to the GX ground network, which will deliver full integration of each generation of GX satellites to form a highly-secure, inter-operable, ultra-high performance network. Future GX satellites offering new capabilities can easily be added to this dynamic framework whenever and wherever demand dictates. The network will also be able to benefit from future technology innovation.

The new GX technology will be compatible with existing terminals, allowing Inmarsat customers to benefit seamlessly from this and future service enhancements. Through regular upgrades by Inmarsat to the GX network capabilities and features, customers will be able to take advantage of future technology innovation.

Rupert Pearce, Chief Executive Officer, Inmarsat said, “On its launch in 2010, Global Xpress revolutionised satellite telecommunications and, even in 2019, GX remains the world’s only truly seamless global mobile broadband network. As such, I am delighted today to announce the next steps in GX’s development, in partnership with Airbus, which will ensure that our customers continue to benefit from GX’s ground-breaking technology and capabilities for many years to come.

Worldwide demand for mobile broadband connectivity has grown exponentially in recent years and we expect this trend to continue. This next phase in the evolution of our GX network provides a dynamic and powerful answer to the challenges created by this growth in demand, building on the strong foundations we have already established”.

Small satellites have opened exciting new ways to explore our planet and beyond

Small satellites have opened exciting new ways to explore our planet and beyond. This month, the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft made the first fully-private, crewed flight to the International Space Station. The going price for a seat is US$55 million. The ticket comes with an eight-day stay on the space station, including room and board—and unrivaled views.

Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin offer cheaper alternatives, which will fly you to the edge of space for a mere US$250,000–500,000. But the flights only last between ten and 15 minutes, barely enough time to enjoy an in-flight snack.

But if you’re happy to keep your feet on the ground, things start to look more affordable. Over the past 20 years, advances in tiny satellite technology have brought Earth orbit within reach for small countries, private companies, university researchers, and even do-it-yourself hobbyists.

Science in space

We are scientists who study our planet and the universe beyond. Our research stretches to space in search of answers to fundamental questions about how our ocean is changing in a warming world, or to study the supermassive black holes beating in the hearts of distant galaxies.

The cost of all that research can be, well, astronomical. The James Webb Space Telescope, which launched in December 2021 and will search for the earliest stars and galaxies in the universe, had a final price tag of US$10 billion after many delays and cost overruns.

The price tag for the International Space Station, which has hosted almost 3,000 scientific experiments over 20 years, ran to US$150 billion, with another US$4 billion each year to keep the lights on.

Even weather satellites, which form the backbone of our space-based observing infrastructure and provide essential measurements for weather forecasting and natural disaster monitoring, cost up to US$400 million each to build and launch.

Budgets like these are only available to governments and national space agencies—or a very select club of space-loving billionaires.

Space for everyone

More affordable options are now democratizing access to space. So-called nanosatellites, with a payload of less than 10kg including fuel, can be launched individually or in “swarms.”

Since 1998, more than 3,400 nanosatellite missions have been launched and are beaming back data used for disaster response, maritime traffic, crop monitoring, educational applications and more.

A key innovation in the small satellite revolution is the standardization of their shape and size, so they can be launched in large numbers on a single rocket.

CubeSats are a widely used format, 10cm along each side, which can be built with commercial off-the-shelf electronic components. They were developed in 1999 by two professors in California, Jordi Puig-Suari and Bob Twiggs, who wanted graduate students to get experience designing, building and operating their own spacecraft.

Twiggs says the shape and size were inspired by Beanie Babies, a kind of collectable stuffed toy that came in a 10cm cubic display case.

Commercial launch providers like SpaceX in California and Rocket Lab in New Zealand offer “rideshare” missions to split the cost of launch across dozens of small satellites. You can now build, test, launch and receive data from your own CubeSat for less than US$200,000.

The universe in the palm of your hand

One project we are involved in uses CubeSats and machine learning techniques to monitor Antarctic sea ice from space. Sea ice is a crucial component of the climate system and improved measurements will help us better understand the impact of climate change in Antarctica.

Sponsored by the UK-Australia Space Bridge program, the project is a collaboration between universities and Antarctic research institutes in both countries. Naturally, we called the project IceCube.

Small satellites are starting to explore beyond our planet, too. In 2018, two nanosatellites accompanied the NASA Insight mission to Mars to provide real-time communication with the lander during its decent. In May 2022, Rocket Lab will launch the first CubeSat to the Moon as a precursor to NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon by 2024.

Tiny satellites are changing the way we explore our planet and beyond.

Tiny spacecraft have even been proposed for a voyage to another star. The Breakthrough Starshot project wants to launch a fleet of 1,000 spacecraft each centimeters in size to the Alpha Centauri star system, 4.37 light-years away. Propelled by ground-based lasers, the spacecraft would “sail” across interstellar space for 20 or 30 years and beam back images of the Earth-like exoplanet Proxima Centauri b.

Small but brilliant

With advances in miniaturization, satellites are getting ever smaller.

“Picosatellites,” the size of a can of soft drink, and “femtosatellites,” no bigger than a computer chip, are putting space within reach of keen amateurs. Some can be assembled and launched for as little as a few hundred dollars.

A Finnish company is experimenting with a more sustainably built CubeSat made of wood. And new, smart satellites, carrying computer chips capable of artificial intelligence, can decide what information to beam back to Earth instead of sending everything, which dramatically reduces the cost of phoning home. Getting to space doesn’t have to cost the Earth after all.