By. Bruce Striegler

Established in 2009, exactEarth Ltd. is a Canadian company based in Cambridge, Ontario, jointly owned by COM DEV International Ltd and Spanish space services company HISDESAT Servicios Estratégicos S.A. exactEarth provides advanced satellite AIS (automatic information system) data from global marine traffic to government or commercial operators. Information provided by AIS includes a vessel’s unique identification, position, course and speed, displayed on a screen or an electronic chart display. AIS is intended to assist a vessel’s watch-standing officers and allow maritime authorities to track and monitor vessel movements.

Canadian Sailings sat in on a recent web presentation by Graham Stickler, Vice-President, Product Management at exactEarth. He began, saying, “Earlier this summer we announced the availability of our brand new exactEarth ShipView™ platform providing simple to use, web-based access to all of our global shipping information.” ShipView is a hosted web application, allowing users to see ship positions produced by their exactAIS® data service, and plots them on a familiar set of map layers. Users can access ShipView from anywhere, anytime, and on any mobile device to quickly view all maritime traffic.

AIS was developed in the 1990s as a high intensity, short range identification and tracking network supplementing marine radar, which continues to be the primary method of marine collision avoidance. At the time, AIS was not anticipated to be detectable from space. Beginning in 2002, automatic tracking systems became mandatory on ships of 300 gross tonnage and upwards, under provisions of the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Conventions. Although large ships have long had transponders transmitting information to other ships and land bases to help avoid collisions, the signals were not being picked up by satellites prior to exactEarth’s services being launched.

ShipView data delivered to customers through web-based platforms

Since 2005 a number of companies and organizations had been experimenting with detection of AIS transmissions using satellite-based receivers. exactEarth is one of those companies, and as a result of its research and development, AIS signals can now be detected by satellites in a low earth orbit. This provides global capability for monitoring all AIS-equipped vessels using a satellite constellation and an extensive network of ground stations.

Mr. Stickler says that just like many other software platforms, all a customer needs is a web browser and a login. “We do the rest for you in the exactEarth ‘cloud’ giving you online access to three months’ worth of global ship information, that’s about half a billion satellite AIS messages alone.” Noting the strong initial response to ShipView, Stickler says, “We have reacted to this feedback quickly, releasing Version 1.1 of ShipView which demonstrates quite clearly our commitment to maturing this platform in line with our user’s needs.”

Technicians at exactEarth have redesigned how the application gets loaded into a browser, making it ten times faster than before. They’ve also added a new embedded ship photo library, courtesy of VesselTracker, allowing a client to access ship images directly alongside the AIS information. Measuring and searching with circles has also been added along with the ability to download a ship list as a KML file for easy use within Google Earth.

Mr. Stickler continues, “From there, we’ve made the filtering of all the ship information a whole lot easier and at the same time extended the power by introducing the concept of rules and groups. You can now make simple or complex rules to refine your search results to exactly what you’re looking for in your area of interest, and to make life even easier and to avoid duplication you can even now import or export filters to share with colleagues or to use with our exactAIS Geospatial Web Services™. We’ve also added Vessel Class as an attribute to be able to filter on, and a hover tool which quickly displays key ship information as you pass over with the mouse. Lastly, we’ve added the ability to change the layer options; you can now change names, adjust transparency, and for exactEarth layers, change the styles for ships displayed on the map giving you even more flexibility over customizing your view of the maritime domain.”

ExactEarth a company on the move

Currently exactEarth has eight satellites at 630 kilometres above the Earth in polar-sun synchronous orbit and more than 120 customers in thirty countries around the world. This past October, exactEarth signed a contract with the Antrix Corporation (the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organization) to launch the M3M satellite on the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle from India in 2015. The M3M satellite was constructed by COM DEV under contract from the Canadian Space Agency/Public Works Government Services Canada for Defence Research and Development Canada. This December, exactEarth further expanded its satellite network through a contract under which the company purchased one satellite and is acquiring data from two more under license. This significantly increases capacity for exactEarth’s global vessel monitoring service and will expand the AIS network to eight satellites.

In September, the company was awarded a $19.2 million contract by the government of Canada to provide extensive advanced satellite AIS data services. The contract covers a period of 18 months and supersedes and significantly augments the existing AIS data services contract that had been in place since 2012 with the Canadian Space Agency and Department of National Defence. The data service will be made available to all Canadian government departments and is expected to be used for a wide range of applications including wide-area maritime surveillance and security, customs and border protection, Arctic vessel traffic monitoring, fisheries and environment monitoring as well as Search and Rescue.

This spring, exactEarth announced a record order book for the second quarter of 2014 for its global vessel tracking and monitoring system. Orders received total $9.6 million which surpasses its previous record for a single quarter by over seventy per cent. The orders are from government and commercial customers around the world, representing both renewals, as well as new business wins as exactEarth continues to rapidly increase customer adoption of its system across multiple market sectors. Currently the company is tracking more than 120,000 ships on the world’s oceans, with both the number of ships being tracked and customers for the data growing.