WASHINGTON — Spire Global, a company developing a constellation of cubesats to provide weather and maritime tracking data, said Dec. 5 it plans to enter the aircraft tracking market by adding additional sensors to its future satellites.
The move by the San Francisco-based company will put it in competition with Aireon, a subsidiary of Iridium, who is placing Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) payloads on the Iridium Next constellation that will soon begin deployment.
In a statement, Spire said that it expects to have 25 satellites carrying ADS-B payloads launched by the end of 2017, with 50 more to follow in 2018. That constellation is designed to meet a mandate by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) set to go into effect in November 2018 that commercial aircraft flying over oceans provide their locations every 15 minutes.
Spire currently operates 16 satellites, including four launched last month from an Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo spacecraft through an arrangement with NanoRacks. Those satellites carry sensors to collect weather data through Global Positioning System radio occultation measurements as well as maritime tracking data through an Automatic Identification System (AIS) payload. Spire spokesman Nick Allain said Dec. 5 that future spacecraft will carry the ADS-B sensors along with the AIS and GPS radio occultation payloads.
While there have been efforts for years to develop satellite-based systems for tracking aircraft, interest in such systems grew after the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, a jetliner lost on a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing. That led to studies and, ultimately, the adoption by the ICAO of new standards and recommended practices for commercial aircraft that include the 15-minute tracking requirement.
Although Spire did not disclose pricing for its ADS-B service, it suggested it would be less expensive, but also less capable, than alternatives. Aireon, which will have payloads on Iridium Next satellites, plans to offer real-time coverage through its system, while Spire is only committing to meeting the ICAO requirement of providing data every 15 minutes.
“Most customers don’t need up-to-the-second aircraft information — for many of them, the standard set forth by the ICAO of 15 minutes will do just fine,” Peter Platzer, Spire’s chief executive, said in a statement. “Spire will be able to provide plane tracking for them at an excellent price.”