Spire Global awarded ESA contract to track aircraft through satellites 

Shutterstock / B. Godart

The European Space Agency (ESA) has assigned a €16 million (US$ 17.7 million) contract to Spire Global, a provider of space-based data services, to design and demonstrate a space-based global aircraft surveillance system. 

This project, which is part of the EURIALO program, aims to use a constellation of low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites to always track the exact location of aircraft anywhere in the world.  

Spire Global uses a multilateration (MLAT) approach, a technology which involves measuring the Time Difference of Arrival (TDOA) of signals emitted by moving senders with fixed receptors. Satellites pick up the reception of radio frequency (RF) signals to determine the position of moving aircraft. 

In March 2014 the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, which went missing shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur, highlighted the need to upgrade real-time positioning and monitoring systems able to cover aircraft in all areas across the globe.  

Spire Global will design the system and will later deploy a demonstrator mission to test the concept in cooperation with European partner ESSP (European Satellite Services Provider). 

US-based Spire Global will open an office in Munich, with most of the project funding coming from the German Space Agency and the German aerospace research center DLR. 

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