PLASMA - Platform for Advanced SAT-AIS Maritime Applications’

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This project covers the specification, design, implementation and pre-operational demonstration of a ‘Platform for Advanced SAT-AIS Maritime Applications’ (PLASMA) at the UK’s Satellite Applications Catapult facility in Harwell. PLASMA will provide a core long term strategic data centre / resource for servicing European, African and Middle Eastern direct end users of SAT-AIS data, as well as third-party commercial developers of maritime information services.

The purpose of the PLASMA project is two-fold:

  • Based on new data centre infrastructure to be operated from the UK’s Satellite Applications Catapult, implement and demonstrate three key services:
    • ‘AIS Knowledge Attributes’ (AKA) Service - provides end users with ‘Knowledge Attributes’ (KAs), i.e. enhanced/value-add information and alerts derived from analysing base AIS message data
    • ‘AIS Web Services’ (AWS) - provides on-demand access to both base AIS data and KAs, via OGC geospatial web services.
    • ‘SAT-AIS Distribution Service’ (ADS) - supports end user applications by routinely ingesting, managing and distributing base AIS message data from exactEarth’s AIS satellites.
    • Provide routine SAT-AIS services direct to EMSA, Europe’s key maritime organisation, through the integration of PLASMA’s outputs into EMSA’s IMDatE. This will allow the provisioning of pre-operational AIS advanced services to EMSA member states.

Longer term objectives are:

  • Provide a SAT-AIS service resource for use by institutional and commercial European, Middle Eastern and African maritime users and information service developers/providers.
  • Provide a physical facility for the raw data processing of future SAT-AIS missions planned under the ESA Integrated Application Programme.
  • Develop, in partnership with end users and application/service developers, new value-added information services.
  • Encourage other third-party AIS providers to use PLASMA as a data centre for disseminating their data to end users.

Users and their needs

  • the ‘European Maritime Safety Agency’, which provides technical assistance and support to the EC and Member States in the development and implementation of EU legislation on maritime safety, pollution by ships and maritime security.
  • the ‘South African Maritime Safety Agency’, whose mission is “to promote South Africa's maritime interests and development and position the country as an international Maritime Centre while ensuring maritime safety, health and environmental protection”.
  • BlueFinger, a UK commercial maritime information service provider and a global leader in the provision of tracking and positioning solutions. They develop and implement asset tracking solutions by land, sea, and air.
  • EMSA: Through access to the ADS, PLASMA provides an excellent opportunity to support new applications and service development by EMSA, by providing a demonstration global SAT-AIS service, via EMSA’s IMDatE system to all EU coastal Member States, Iceland and Norway, as well as EU Institutions/ Authorities, such as EFCA, Frontex and EUNAVFOR.
  • SAMSA: They are particularly interested in the AKA service and AWS, as they want to be able to be alerted to events of potential interest, without the need for them to do significant data filtering/processing themselves.
  • BlueFinger: As with SAMSA, via the AKA service/AWS they are interested in receiving notifications of events of interest to them and the subsequent retrieval of information of interest.

Service/ system concept

Based on the features described above, the following key user needs will be met by PLASMA services:

  • Comprehensive ‘Maritime Domain Awareness’ (MDA): Global, frequently updated vessel tracking data that covers both coastal and open-ocean can only be derived from satellite AIS and therefore meets the need of organisations that maintain a geographically large and comprehensive MDA.
  • Organisational Efficiency: The sheer volume of AIS data can be difficult for some organisations to exploit to its full potential. Therefore, some users are interested in services that can provide them with ‘pointers’ into the base AIS data, i.e. indicate automatically where something of potential interest has occurred.
  • Need for Value Added Intelligence: Organisations require information and intelligence, not just base data.  Although some organisations are equipped to do such derivation from underlying data sources, others are less well placed. These are interested in services that provide value-added information as opposed to ‘just data’. 

Space Added Value

AIS was originally mandated as an aid to collision avoidance in maritime shipping. A range of standard messages are regularly broadcast (over VHF) by compliant ships via their on-board AIS transponder. Messages contain dynamic information on current position (via GPS), course and speed, plus more static information on destination, etc. 

Via an AIS receiver, AIS messages are received by other ships, port authorities, etc.. Since 2009, ships’ AIS transmissions can be received in space (SAT-AIS). Ships can therefore now be tracked in the open ocean, rather than just within ~40 nautical miles of a receiver as with terrestrial AIS.

Product Benefits

  • Fulfilling the needs of our end customers by providing them with:
    • an AKA service that creates value-added information in the form of ‘knowledge attributes’ derived from post-processing SAT-AIS messages. The AKA service is a powerful, cost effective and operationally efficient way for end users to be notified and then receive information of specific interest, without the need for them to analyse/filter all incoming AIS base data themselves.
    • an AWS, which provides a number of on-demand geospatial web services to retrieve and analyse PLASMA-provided data and information, i.e. base AIS data and KAs. The AWS, which uses OGC standards, is a powerful and operationally efficient way of end users and third-party service developers selecting when and what data/information they wish to receive.
    • an ADS, focussed on serving EMEA customers with stream-based base AIS messages - there are a number of users of AIS data who wish to be pushed every AIS message as soon it becomes available after any post-reception processing.
  • Providing a rich underlying platform at the heart of the UK Satellite Applications Catapult to support the development of new maritime applications and services by 3rd party value-added service developers.

Product Features

As illustrated below, PLASMA will consist of three key data and information delivery services:

  • Some customers will require ‘as soon as is available’ routine access to all received base / native AIS data, which they will then integrate into their own systems for their own subsequent higher-level processing needs. These data are ‘pushed’ to the customer, i.e. these would be uses of PLASMA’s ‘AIS Delivery Service’ (ADS).
  • Some customers will be less concerned with the need to receive and handle every base/native AIS message provided for by the underlying data capture systems, and instead be more interested in investigating only those incoming data items / events of specific interest, and/or that potentially deviate from the norm, i.e. these would be users of PLASMA’s ‘AIS Knowledge Attributes’ (AKA) service.
  • Some customers will not need to receive pushed routine low-level data/information feeds, but instead will ‘pull’ data and information on-demand as they or their systems require it. Additionally they view AIS data as geo-spatial information and wish to access/manipulate it using open geospatial standards, i.e. these would be users of PLASMA’s ‘AIS Web Services’ (AWS) component.

In the above diagram the proposed demonstration services are shown in blue and our customers in green, with the following end users using the demonstration services on the project:

Key Issues

  • Use of the ‘Climate and Environmental Monitoring from Space’(CEMS) facility for physical infrastructure hosting
  • integration of PLASMA services into users’ legacy systems
  • Development of the knowledge attributes (KA) rules engine as the heart of the AKA Service.

Current Status

PLASMA/A-STAR continues to delivers eE’s SAT-AIS data into EMSA’s IMDatE system, with very positive feedback from both EMSA and IMDatE users as to the utility of SAT-AIS data.

A-STAR also continues to supply Doppler frequency shift data from exactEarth’s EV1 satellite into EMSA’s DPC Block 2 system.

Work is complete on version 1 of A-STAR’s positional anomaly (PA) and behaviour analysis (BA) services. These are currently being integrated into Gatehouse’s and NSCI’s own end users systems. PA and BA services have also been integrated into exactEarth’s ShipView web data viewer.

Integration of routine reception of forecast weather and sea-state data from the MIDAS service is also complete and some basic portrayal of the data is underway for its use in ShipView. In addition eEE is progressing the use of the forecast data in combination with incoming SAT-AIS data to trigger events.

The plan is that the project’s end users (NMIC, the DMA, the FCOO and the Irish Navy) will be able to access the PA and BA demonstration services in January 2016 and provide feedback over the following months.

Project Managers

Contractor Project Manager

Richard Proud
exactEarth Europe Ltd
Electron Building, Fermi Avenue,
Harwell Didcot
OX11 0QR
United Kingdom
+44 (0)7899 995920

ESA Project Manager

Jan Dettmann
ECSAT
Atlas Building,
Harwell-Oxford Didcot
OX11 0QX
United Kingdom
+44 (0)1235 444323

Status Date

Updated: 04 December 2015 - Created: 24 June 2014