The European Space Agency will help track aircraft in real-time from space

The Eurialo independent satellite surveillance system could prevent scenarios like the MH370 disappearance from taking place.
Chris Young
An aircraft flying under white clouds.
An aircraft flying under white clouds.

Wirestock / iStock 

A new deal between the European Space Agency (ESA) and Spire Global will see satellites used to keep an independent eye on operational aircraft, a post from ESA reveals.

Spire Global, a company that provides space-based data and analytics services, will design and test an advanced civilian aviation surveillance system called Eurialo.

ESA and Spire will utilize a constellation of satellites to monitor flights globally in real-time, improving the ability to keep track of aircraft everywhere.

Independent satellite surveillance system

The new Eurialo system will determine the position of an aircraft by geolocating its radio frequency signals. Spire will build an in-orbit technology demonstrator for the system ahead of its eventual deployment.

The new system aligns with "the European air traffic management master plan, which describes the need for resilient, space-based infrastructure to support safe, sustainable and efficient air travel," ESA's statement explains.

It will help to reduce the reliance on aircraft self-reporting their positions via the Global Navigation Satellite System and will help to make aviation safer, according to ESA.

Organizations and governments have been experimenting with similar technology for a number of years. In 2019, for example, company Aireon announced it was developing an independent satellite surveillance system, called ADS-B, with a view to preventing a similar situation to the MH370 tragedy, which saw an aircraft disappear off radar systems.

MH370 is one of the aviation world's biggest mysteries. It was a Malaysian Airlines flight that took off on 8 March, 2014, from Beijing with 239 people aboard. Less than an hour into the flight, it lost contact with air traffic control and it has never been located since.

Tracking aircraft from take off to landing

Now, the new Eurialo system is expected to provide the most advanced civilian aircraft surveillance system to date, allowing users to track a plane in real-time from take-off to landing.

The Eurialo project is mainly funded by the German Space Agency, DLR, and Spire plans to open an office in Munich as it ramps up work on the project.

"Space-based aircraft tracking and geolocation is the future of air traffic management to ensure safe, secure, and sustainable air travel at a global scale," said Peter Platzer, Chief Executive Officer at Spire Global.

Peter added, "we are honored to be selected by ESA to lead the development of this first-of-its-kind aviation surveillance system demonstrator, leveraging our more than 500 years of flight heritage operating satellites in space and expertise in radio frequency technology."

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