The commercial microsatellite ESAIL, which uses a newly developed satellite platform, was carried into orbit from the European spaceport in Kourou on 3 September at 03:51 CEST on board a Vega launch vehicle. The development of the first satellite in the European Space Agency's (ESA) SAT-AIS programme was financed by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) with funds from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Energie; BMWi). ESAIL's task will be to determine the location of ships and monitor global maritime traffic.
Core components for the new platform come from Germany
ESAIL will orbit Earth for around five years at an altitude of approximately 515 kilometres. With an edge length of only 60 centimetres and a weight of around 110 kilograms, the cube-shaped satellite is classified as a microsatellite. The international market for these small satellites is growing because they can be used for a wide variety of tasks in low Earth orbit. Their range of tasks includes Earth observation, data relay services for the Internet of Things, and technology testing.
"What is special about ESAIL is the new, flexible satellite platform named Triton," explains Marc Hofmann, who is responsible for ESAIL at the DLR Space Administration. "Small and medium-sized German companies developed core components for it." In the past, satellites were custom-made for every application, which required a great deal of time and money. Flexible platforms are increasingly being developed and used to save time and costs during manufacture. "These platforms can now be bought almost 'off the shelf', with only minor adjustments being required," says Hofmann.
Accurate positioning will increase safety for maritime traffic
From space, ESAIL will observe ships that are fitted with Automatic Identification System (AIS) tracking equipment. With the help of this satellite-based system (SAT-AIS), ships can be identified worldwide and their exact position determined. AIS data are important for avoiding collisions between ships, monitoring routes, and fighting environmental crime. ESAIL will complement the satellite fleet of the Canadian company exactEarth, which provides positioning and information services to the maritime sector.
Medium-sized companies in Germany made an important contribution to ESAIL
ESAIL was developed under the SAT-AIS programme as part of ESA's Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES) programme. ESAIL was constructed by the Luxembourg-based company LuxSpace, which is a subsidiary of the Bremen-based space group OHB SE. Core components of the 'Triton' platform were developed by German small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The data transmission system for the satellite payload was supplied by STT-SystemTechnik GmbH in Munich. Parts of the attitude control system were manufactured by Astro- und Feinwerktechnik Adlershof GmbH in Berlin and ZARM Technik AG in Bremen. The German contribution to the SAT-AIS programme therefore benefits medium-sized companies. Through its contributions to ESA programmes, the DLR Space Administration promotes the development of new, flexible satellite platforms for use in low Earth orbit.