ESA hires Spire to build an aircraft-tracking satellite system

26 Jul 2023

Image: © Marco Attano/

The Eurialo project aims to use satellites to track aircraft by finding their exact position with radio frequency signals.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has awarded Spire Global a €16m contract to design a satellite-based aircraft surveillance system.

The space services company will develop the initial design and operate a demonstrator mission. The project aims to use satellites to track aircraft by finding their exact position through radio frequency signals. This is known as multilateration.

Currently, the positions of aircraft are visible to controllers through the use of transponders, or self-reported with assistance from global navigation satellites.

The ESA’s Eurialo project aims to compliment existing systems with an advanced, independent surveillance system that verifies the location of planes using multilateration. Spire said this project ties into an EU “master plan” around air traffic management, which aims to develop space-based infrastructure to support safe and efficient air travel.

Spire builds and operates its own satellite constellation that observes the Earth in real time using radio frequency technology. The company’s CEO Peter Platzer said the ESA contract will leverage the company’s experience in satellite operations.

“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,” Platzer said. “We are honoured to be selected by ESA to lead the development of this first-of-its-kind aviation surveillance system demonstrator.”

Spire plans to open a new office in Munich through a German subsidiary to strength its small satellite segment in the country. This will expand the company’s geographic footprint to nine offices across six countries.

The EU is working to boost and develop multiple satellite programmes. Earlier this year, it signed a deal with Japan whereby the country will provide the EU’s Copernicus satellite programme with data from its non-commercial Earth observation satellites.

In May, several companies operating in the space and telecoms sector formed a consortium to make the EU’s IRIS2 satellite constellation a reality.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic