PARIS — OHB System of Germany will lead a consortium to study design options for a constellation of five small satellites in low orbit that would provide Automatic Identification System (AIS) data from global maritime traffic to coastal authorities, OHB announced Jan. 16.

The contract, with the European Space Agency (ESA), is valued at 1 million euros ($1.35 million) and will be used to help European governments decide whether to launch their own AIS system.

Current maritime regulations require that all ships weighing 300,000 kilograms or more be equipped with AIS transmitters. Without satellites, AIS signals can be received only when ships are close enough to shore for their VHF signals to reach coastal authorities. With satellites in low Earth orbit, AIS can be extended worldwide.

Orbcomm Inc. of the United States already has launched AIS payloads as part of an experimental program with the U.S. Coast Guard and expects to find a global commercial market for it once U.S. authorities have confirmed the value of the service.

The Canadian government also has launched an experimental AIS program, and the Norwegian government plans to launch a similar experimental payload on a small satellite later this year.

Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.