Consortium to build satcom system based on next-gen AIS technologies

Saab, ORBCOMM and AAC Clyde Space have announced plans to work together on a new Swedish space project to develop LEO satellite communication for the maritime sector using the VHF Data Exchange System (VDES), the same technology underpinning next generation Automatic Identification System (AIS) services.

An initial demonstration satellite will be produced in the first stage of the project, which is expected to be followed by a larger constellation of satellites to create a maritime communications infrastructure increasing the range of VDES transmissions to cover the entire globe, converting what is currently a predominantly coastal technology into a global maritime system.

This would allow all ships in service with VDES-capable equipment to carry out two-way communication with each other anywhere on Earth – something the developers describe as “a secure wireless internet for shipping.”

VDES offers approximately 32 times more bandwidth than AIS, transmitting small data packages between satellites, ships, and shore. The system will provide full backward compatibility with AIS but offer additional positioning and communication capabilities that could be used to support e-navigation and autonomous shipping initiatives.

The technology might also be particularly useful for IoT communications between owners and their cargo, transported both at sea and on land, the companies said.

“The new LEO nanosatellites are part of what is now called ‘New Space’ and this project is a good example of how industry can develop powerful and cost-efficient space-based solutions. Saab entering into this business with its technology is a significant opportunity for all involved,” explained Christian Hedelin, Chief Strategy Officer at Saab.

The VDES project is expected to begin in October 2020, with the launch of the demonstration satellite in mid-2022, followed by in-orbit demonstration and testing up to the end of the first quarter of 2023. The project is co-funded by the Swedish Transport Administration (Trafikverket).

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Rob O'Dwyer

Rob is Chief Network Officer and one of the founders of Smart Maritime Network. He also serves as Chairman of the Smart Maritime Council. Rob has worked in the maritime technology sector since 2005, managing editorial for a range of leading publications in the transport and logistics sector. Get in touch by email by clicking here, or on LinkedIn by clicking here.

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