The world’s first space-based automatic identification system (AIS) to track merchant ships on a real-time basis will be built and operated jointly by India and France, the French space agency (CNES) has said.

President of CNES and Kailasavadivoo Sivan, Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), will see the development and production of a constellation of satellites on which studies have been underway since President Emmanuel Macron’s state visit to India in March 2018.

This constellation carrying telecommunications (AIS) and radar and optical remote-sensing instruments will constitute the first space-based system in the world capable of tracking ships continuously. The satellites will be operated jointly by France and India to monitor ships in the Indian Ocean. The system will cover a wide belt around the globe, benefiting a broad range of French economic interests. With a revisit capability making it possible to task acquisitions several times a day, it will also be able to detect oil slicks and trace their origin.

This new step is a further boost for the already significant and wide-ranging space partnership between France and India. CNES and ISRO have developed, built and are jointly operating several satellites that are serving precious applications for food security (monsoon forecasting), water resource management and climate research. An infrared climate-monitoring satellite is in the study phase and India’s next oceanography satellite will be carrying a CNES Argos instrument into orbit in 2020.