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Thales, Spire Global, and ESSP Announce Satellite Constellation for Air Traffic Surveillance

Thales, Spire Global, and the European Satellite Services Provider (ESSP) have announced a memorandum of cooperation to develop a satellite constellation dedicated to air traffic surveillance.

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Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Sat Jun 15 2024Written by Zac Aubert

Thales, Spire Global, and the European Satellite Services Provider (ESSP) have announced a memorandum of cooperation to develop a satellite constellation dedicated to air traffic surveillance.

This constellation, consisting of over 100 satellites, aims to collect aircraft Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) messages and relay them swiftly to ground stations. The partners plan to commence commercial services from this new constellation in 2027.

“This innovative satellite-based surveillance service will accelerate the implementation of our new ‘Air Traffic Control as a service’ offering. It will play a crucial role in shaping the future of the skies, serving as a vital facilitator for trajectory-based operations and laying the foundation for a safer, more environmentally friendly, and cost-efficient” air traffic management system." - Christian Rivierre, Thales Airspace Mobility Solutions Vice President

Roles and Responsibilities

The collaboration involves distinct roles for each partner.

Spire Global will handle the development of the space segment, encompassing the design and construction of satellites and payloads, the establishment of a ground network, and data collection. Thales is tasked with delivering the air traffic management system.

ESSP, which consists of regional air navigation service providers, will oversee the certification and delivery of air traffic surveillance services and perform round-the-clock operations.

The Space Alliance, formed by Thales Alenia Space and Telespazio, will collaborate with constellation partners to identify key enabling technologies, support network optimization, and establish sustainable operations.

Enhanced Air Traffic Surveillance

The new low-Earth orbit constellation is set to provide global civilian aircraft position information every eight seconds with a latency of just 1.5 seconds. Such low latency and frequent updates are crucial for International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)-certified air traffic surveillance systems.

“Our service is developed driven by users’ needs and expectations to face new service-levels, the challenge of [air traffic control] digitization and to support greener and more sustainable air travel. We will provide the full range of ESSP’s space-based [communication, navigation, and surveillance] expertise to implement and to operate mission-critical services to ensure the highest quality of service to all aviation stakeholders.” - Charlotte Neyret, ESSP Chief Executive

“The birth of a satellite constellation fully dedicated to serving the demanding needs of air traffic management, air domain awareness, and national security is a groundbreaking development for the aviation industry. Through our strategic partnership with Thales and ESSP, we are poised to offer the first real alternative to the aging systems that exist today and embark on a journey towards even more advanced space-based solutions for aviation in the years to come.” - Philip Plantholt, Spire Aviation General Manager

ESA Collaboration

Beyond this collaboration, Spire, Thales, and ESSP are also working on Eurialo, a project funded by the European Space Agency (ESA). Eurialo aims to develop a civil aviation tracking constellation independent of global navigation satellite systems (GNSS).

Under a 16 million Euro ESA contract announced in 2023, the Spire-led group will design and demonstrate the viability of a constellation that determines the location of aircraft based on the time of arrival of radio frequency signals. This project signifies a move towards more robust and independent air traffic surveillance capabilities.

Commercial aircraft currently report their locations via ADS-B transmitters, relying on GNSS. However, the latest air traffic surveillance systems, such as Aireon, augment GNSS data with signals from Iridium’s low-Earth orbit communications constellation. The Eurialo project aims to further enhance these capabilities, reducing dependency on GNSS.

This collaboration between Thales, Spire Global, and ESSP marks a significant step forward in the field of air traffic surveillance. The development of a dedicated satellite constellation promises to enhance safety, efficiency, and sustainability in air traffic management, paving the way for a more advanced and resilient aviation infrastructure.