Automatic Identification Systems (A.I.S.) from NASA, works similar to the system used by air traffic controllers to provide safe travel for airplanes. A.I.S. is required for all international vessels, large cargo ships and passenger carriers. On a ship, the A.I.S. has a range slightly over 46 miles and is used to detect the location of other vessels and track their course. It also provides the vessels name, how fast it is going, the kind of vessel it is and it’s longitude and latitude. This technology helps prevent ships from intersecting courses that could cause collisions. If there is an emanate threat of collision, the A.I.S. system allows you to call the ship you may collide with. This can also be helpful if one vessel is in a dire situation needing immediate assistance.
The A.I.S. system consists of a black box receiver, antennae and transponder. The A.I.S. device emits VHF radio signals which are received by another A.I.S. receiver. The signals are then converted to NMEA messages and laid out on a chart plotter or a digital readout screen. There are various types of A.I.S. systems including for leisure boats and are available for the average consumer.
In 2009, astronauts attached VHF antennas (this is the signal used by A.I.S. systems) to the International Space Station. It was learned that A.I.S. signals traveled much farther vertically than horizontally. Since 2010, the International Space Station has been transmitting ship position reports with approximately 400,000 ship reports transmitted on any given day. Of those reports, there are over 20,000 unique ship MMSI numbers that were being tracked.
Scientists continue to work on better and more defined algorithms to increase optimization of the Space Station’s A.I.S. capabilities. In 2012 an upgrade to the current Space Station A.I.S. software was completed. With using the Space Station as not only a receiver, but to have its own program and ability to interact with other satellite data gathered, it could improve maritime safety and monitoring. This could prove beneficial in not only security and law enforcement but fishery control, pollution surveys and search-and-rescues. The Norwegian User Support and Operation Center in Trondheim, Norway is the facility that collects all the satellite data and is continuously evaluating the data in real-time.
To show the unique capabilities of using the Space Station for an A.I.S receiver, in its infancy stage, the satellite A.I.S. receiver was able to locate a single ship-wrecked survivor stranded in the North Sea. This demonstrates the incredible possibilities and purposes this program could be used for, in locating victims in near unmanageable situations.