Official Sees Benefit in Maritime Monitoring Constellation

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  Space News Business

Official Sees Benefit in Maritime Monitoring Constellation

By PETER B. de SELDING
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 01 March 2005
05:06 pm ET


PARIS — A six-satellite constellation dedicated to monitoring mar�itime traffic for civil defense and environmental security and modeled on the current multi�national Disaster Monitoring Constellation could be built and launched for as little as $300 million, according to Daniel Hernandez, director for new programs and systems at the French space agency, CNES.

In a presentation here Feb. 22 at a conference on satellite applications for maritime secu�rity organized by the Interna�tional Astronautical Federation and the Eurisy space-advocacy group, Hernandez said such a constellation has become more feasible now that several dozen nations have expressed interest in building small Earth observa�tion satellites.

But while such spacecraft have become less expensive, their operational utility is limit�ed unless they are used as part of a constellation of spacecraft that would permit daily revisits of the same area.

“There are about 30 nations that have signaled their interest in building small satellites,” Hernandez said. “At the same time, many nations want in�creased surveillance of mar�itime traffic — for security, for environmental monitoring and pollution detection.”

Hernandez said the Disaster Monitoring Constellation or�ganized by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. of Guildford, England, which features partici�pation by nations that do not have big space budgets, could be the model for a maritime-surveillance constellation. He said the satellites in the constel�lation could carry optical and radar sensors, and be capable of receiving signals from the Auto�matic Identification System hardware that oceangoing ves�sels are supposed to carry start�ing in 2008.

Hernandez said figures com�piled by the International Union of Maritime Insurance show that the maritime insur�ance market totals $10 billion a year. He said Spanish govern�ment authorities have estimat�ed the total cost of the Novem�ber 2002 Prestige oil-tanker sinking at $9.9 billion.

“When thinking about the cost of satellite-surveillance sys�tems, the costs of environmen�tal damage also should be kept in mind,” Hernandez said.

Many European government officials in recent months have suggested that the most likely terrorist threat is from a small ship approaching the European or U.S. coastline.

The U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative, to which more than a dozen nations have subscribed, facilitates boarding and inspection of vessels on the high seas to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction. But most of the world’s nations have not yet signed the initia�tive, and forcibly intercepting such ships in international wa�ters is illegal except in excep�tional circumstances.

Alain Claverie of EADS Astri�um said a terrorist attack from the sea “is one of the most vul�nerable areas for global securi�ty. The high seas remain a rela�tively lawless region.” Claverie said an initial satellite system that permits long-range track�ing and identification of ships in international waters could be stitched together from existing and planned radar and optical observation satellites.

Claverie endorsed Hernan�dez’s idea of having several na�tions contribute to such a sys�tem, each with a relatively modest investment or with ex�isting assets. He noted that Eu�rope already has tested both op�tical and radio-frequency inter�satellite links using the Artemis relay satellite in geostationary orbit and the Spot and Envisat Earth observation satellites in low Earth orbit.

The U.S. government in late 2004 proposed an initial ship-monitoring system, called Long-Range Identification and Track�ing of Ships, to the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

The U.S. motivation has been to defend against terrorist attacks on U.S. coasts. Several officials here said this motiva�tion could be married to Eu�rope’s environmental-security concerns to produce an opera�tional system. Both goals re�quire identifying and tracking ships over long distances, and monitoring their cargo.

Yannick Texier of the Euro�pean Maritime Safety Agency, created by the Commission of the European Union after the December 1999 Erika oil-spill disaster in France and Spain, said the IMO appears on track to adopt the long-range track�ing and surveillance system pro�posal by 2009 or 2010.

Fotis Karamitsos, director for maritime and inland water�way at the European Commis�sion’s Energy and Transport Di�rectorate, said the Erika breakup is a good example of how U.S. security-based con�cerns and Europe’s safety- and environment-based motivations could come together.

As the stricken tanker con�tinued to disgorge oil, Spanish authorities debated whether to sink the ship in the frigid At�lantic waters, on the assump�tion that the oil remaining in the ship would freeze in place. They later discovered that the Erika’s oil cargo had been treat�ed with antifreeze materials. Sinking the tanker was thus not a solution.

European and international regulations on automatic cargo identification should make it easier to avoid this kind of con�fusion, he said.