ESA, Inmarsat Partnering on Satellite-based Flight-tracking System

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PARIS — The European Space Agency and mobile satellite services provider Inmarsat on Nov. 26 signed a partnership agreement on development of a satellite-based aircraft flight-tracking system to improve commercial air-traffic management.

With the British space minister, Greg Clark, looking on, ESA and Inmarsat committed a combined 15 million euros ($19 million) to the Iris Precursor project, which is part of a larger European Union program called Single European Skies Air Traffic Management Research, or SESAR.

Inmarsat and the other companies in the 16-company consortium set up for the Iris Precursor project are contributing 4 million euros of the total. The British government is taking a 50 percent stake, with its 7.4 million-euro contribution being spent through the 20-nation ESA’s Artes telecommunications research program. The remaining 3.6 million euros is being paid by Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Ireland and Portugal, although through contributions to ESA’s Artes.

Iris Precursor will use an upgraded version of Inmarsat’s existing SwiftBroadband terminal, which is aboard a large number of aircraft already. The new version, called SwiftBroadband Safety, has begun flight trials in view to approval by regulators for trans-Atlantic use.

SwiftBroadband Safety will provide a space-based overlay to existing VHF terrestrial networks. Inmarsat Chief Executive Rupert Pearce said at the Nov. 26 signing ceremony in London that the Iris Precursor technology would be used first in Europe but had broad export potential.