Vessel ID System (Vessel ID System) - 01.16.19

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
The Vessel ID System investigation demonstrates the ability of a space-based radio receiver to identify ships in the ocean. It also demonstrates the use of a simple device known as the Grappling Adaptor to On-Orbit Railing (GATOR), which can be used during a spacewalk to attach small equipment to external handrails on the International Space Station (ISS). The investigation could provide researchers an additional platform for mounting experiments while demonstrating a new means to identify ships at sea.
Science Results for Everyone
The Vessel ID System, a space-based radio receiver attached to the external handrails on the space station, received as many as 400,000 ship position reports from more than 22,000 different ships in a single day. The receiver collects the raw signals, processes them, and sends them to the ground for signal quality check, which is helping to improve the ship identification and tracking system.  Data help the development of an updated version of the decoder computer program, for example, and the average numbers of processed messages per day have improved, especially in the heavily-trafficked Mediterranean, Gulf of Mexico, and East Asian waters.

The following content was provided by R.B. Olsen, and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Information provided courtesy of the Erasmus Experiment Archive.
Experiment Details

OpNom: Vessel ID Sys

Principal Investigator(s)
R.B. Olsen, Norway

T Bauna, Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT), Tromso, Norway
O. Helleren, Norway
A. Nordmo Skauen, Norway
T. Eriksen, Norway
S.E. Christiansen, Norway
H. Rosshaug, Norway
F. Storesund, Norway

Information Pending

Sponsoring Space Agency
European Space Agency (ESA)

Sponsoring Organization
Information Pending

Research Benefits
Information Pending

ISS Expedition Duration
March 2010 - March 2016; March 2016 - April 2020

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions
Vessel ID System operations were first scheduled to operate on ISS Increment 21/22.

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Experiment Description

Research Overview
• The Vessel ID System investigation consists of a simple EVA compatible mechanism to accommodate small passive equipment payloads on the ISS modules equipped with standard EVA handrails, known as Grappling Adaptor to On-Orbit Railing (GATOR).
• The Vessel ID System also consists of a ship and shore broadcast system which operates in the VHF maritime band, known as the Automatic Identification System (AIS). AIS will demonstrate the space-based identification capability of maritime vessels.

Information Pending

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Space Applications
The Vessel ID System tests a new mechanism that can be used to install small passive experimental payloads on the International Space Station’s exterior. The Grappling Adaptor to On-Orbit Railing (GATOR) could attach small payloads to ISS handrails, which are used by crew members during extravehicular activity. This would provide an additional space on the station to conduct passive experiments or collect data.

Earth Applications
The Vessel ID System includes an Automatic Identification System (AIS), which can track global maritime traffic from space. Data from this ship-monitoring device could be combined with data from satellites to provide better surveillance of ships at sea. Current AIS technology is only designed to monitor vessels in coastal waters, but the Vessel Identification System will incorporate ships in open waters. It will be mounted on the European Columbus module, and could help European entities monitor ships for fishery control, search and rescue operations, maritime border control and law enforcement purposes.

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Operational Requirements and Protocols
• The Vessel ID System consists of 2 external antenna assemblies with GATOR mounting accommodation and 1 internal AIS receiver.
• Installation of the Vessel ID System will take approximately 5 hours of crew time.

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

The two operational phases with the NORAIS receiver, which is operated by FFI/Norway, have been extremely successful, with data telemetry received by the Norwegian User Support Operations Center (N-USOC), in Trondheim, Norway, via ESA’s Columbus Control Centre in Germany. Data has been received by NORAIS in almost continuous operation, and all modes of operation have worked extremely well. On a good day, approximately 400,000 ship position reports are received from more than 22,000 different ship identification numbers (Maritime Mobile Service Identity, or MMSI). The NORAIS receiver has a sample mode that can collect the raw signal, digitize it and send it to the ground for analysis of signal quality; this is proving very helpful in making additional improvements/ refinements to the system, by way of successive software upgrades. Several hundred data sets have been collected and processed with new candidate algorithms for next generation receivers. From the assessment of these data sets, an updated version of the decoder algorithm has been developed. The development benefits from the investigations of the sampled data and ongoing work in other ESA projects. The firmware was uploaded to the NORAIS Receiver through the station’s communications network. This upgrade #1 (“NORAIS Receiver FPGA firmware v18”), was activated on 20 January 2012.The on-orbit data of the NORAIS Receiver v18 has been analyzed since and show very good results. The teams are confident in the operation and performance of v18 and have now analyzed preliminary results of the comparison of the performance of the upgraded NORAIS Receiver (v18) relative to the version operated prior to the upgrade (v16).The performance has been studied as the average number of decoded messages per day for the current upgrade v18 of the firmware and the original NORAIS receiver software. The improvement is the ratio of these numbers (so average numbers of messages per day before the upgrade divided by number of messages after the upgrade). The number of messages from ships in various geographic areas shows a variation in the ratio of messages from 1.2 to 2.0, whereas the ratio of MMSI’s ranges from 1.1 to 1.9. The improvement in the Mediterranean is almost a factor of 2.0 in number of messages, and more than 1.6 in number of distinct ships per day. The improvement in other high-traffic zones, at the Gulf of Mexico and East Asia, is even higher. The plot below shows the ratio of the daily average number of messages and unique MMSI’s for some ocean areas. As of March 2013, the Vessel Identification System has acquired an extensive amount of data for nearly three years since its installation in and on Columbus. Meanwhile various service entities have been asking to get access to the Vessel ID data which is continuously acquired on Columbus.

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Results Publications

    Eriksen T, Nordmo Skauen A, Narheim B, Helleren O, Olsen O, Olsen RB.  Tracking ship traffic with Space-Based AIS: Experience gained in first months of operations. Waterside Security Conference (WSS), 2010 International, Carrara, Italy; 2010 November 3-5 1-8.

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Ground Based Results Publications

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ISS Patents

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Related Publications

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Related Websites

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image NASA Image: S129E007770 - Astronaut Randy Bresnik poses for a photo while working to install the Grappling Adaptor to On-Orbit Railing (GATOR) during a session of an Extravehicular Activity.
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Position of all ships tracked. Image courtesy of ESA.

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