Defence

Navigating the sea from space using innovative technology

Shipping is the most energy-efficient mode of transport, and more than 80% of the goods sold worldwide are transported across oceans, doubling in volume over the past quarter century. Recognizing the global need for continuous maritime navigation, ESA’s Navigation Innovation and Support Program NAVISP – inventing the future of navigation with more than 200 research and development projects launched to date – therefore focuses not only on land but also at sea.



Autonomous docking for safer ports
Satellite navigation, or more generally Positioning, Navigation and Time (PNT) data, has for many years influenced and transformed developments in the maritime transport sector to improve efficiency and safety. To further support and accelerate this transformation, NAVISP ESA has started a partnership with Italy’s Grimaldi Group – one of the largest groups of shipping companies in the world with a fleet of around 130 ships.

With a coastline of 8,700 kilometers and a strategic location in the Mediterranean basin, Italy occupies an important place in the European blue economy. Italy’s own blue economy, with maritime transport as the most important segment, generated more than $145 billion in 2021, equivalent to 10% of the country’s GDP, with more than 225,000 companies employing more than 900,000 workers. Accordingly, the efficiency of its ports has a direct impact on the economy as a whole.

Therefore, NAVISP’s Grimaldi Satellite Assisted Berthing project (GSAB) aims to develop and test the first satellite guidance system for docking maneuvers of large vessels purpose-built to carry large numbers of trucks and passenger cars.

The project will use the latest innovations in multi-sensor satellite technology, helping to improve the efficiency of port maneuvers to improve safety while reducing CO2 emissions in line with ensuring a greener and safer maritime transport sector.

Cosimo Cervicato, senior executive engineer of the Grimaldi Group, states: “Increasing throughput, safety and reducing pollution are the main factors for sustainable maritime operations and ports. The autonomous berth represents the next frontier for optimizing maritime operations and increasing the efficiency of maritime operations in ports.”

Navigation in coastal areas as well as mooring in harbors is a particularly challenging task, explains ESA system engineer Félix Toran: “Marine operations in ports are very demanding in terms of navigation performance, which navigation systems such as Galileo or GPS alone cannot fulfill . it is essential to combine such systems with other PNT sensors to achieve the required performance levels to allow this type of operation. The GSAB system will support safer and faster maneuvering and docking, allowing larger ships to access ports.”

Grimaldi will coordinate the international team in collaboration with Kongsberg, an industry leader based in Norway specializing in the development of signal processing and reception technologies. In addition, Grimaldi Group will cooperate with the Italian consortium Radiolabs, which will develop, implement and test the system in real working conditions.

Felix adds: “The project is divided into two phases. NAVISP’s current activities cover design and development, installation of sensors on a ro-ro ro-ro vessel, and a test preparation campaign. In the second phase, field trials will be carried out with the equipped ship at Grimaldi’s facilities in the port of Antwerp-Bruges, Europe’s second largest seaport.’



Fusion of marine sensors
Other NAVISP projects also look seaward: Finland’s Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning Sensor Fusion for Autonomous Ship Navigation aims to apply artificial intelligence (AI) that can be applied to achieve autonomous situational awareness so that a ship can reliably sense its environment. .

His main focus is on the study of data fusion from multiple shipboard sensors for the detection and tracking of moving objects during navigation and maneuvering, along with the study of proactive and reactive collision avoidance techniques, adapting strategies from the automotive and aerospace industries.

NAVISP is also working with Norwegian research institute SINTEF and Kongsberg subsidiary Kongsberg Seatex to create the world’s first test site for autonomous shipping, the Trondheimsfjorden Autonomous Test Area.


Links by topic

ESA Navigation Innovation and Support Program

GPS Applications, Technologies and Vendors



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