European Space Agency


The global container traffic by sea, rail and truck is estimated to reach approximately 19M units by 2012. End-to-end visibility and tracking is urgently needed to make container shipping more efficient, and to enhance trade security.

This development entitled “CONT-TRAK: Container Tracking Terminal Development” provides a unique, low-cost solution to meet this challenge, which will ensure continuous container monitoring and tracking from the point of origin, by truck, rail or ship (buried in a stacked environment) to the final destination.

A suite of sensors within the container will ensure immediate satcom notification of any tampering, thus enhancing the safety and security of container transportation. This prototype terminal development of a CONT-TRAK terminal and application server will result in a competitive commercial global container tracking and monitoring product and service that will provide continuous visibility in a stacked inter-modal environment, built on proven leading-edge technology. Inter-Modal

Inter-Modal Tracking by Web Server Application

click for larger image


The key technical issue addressed was the challenge of designing an effective and efficient Container Tracking Interface Module (CTIM) which provides the necessary inter-container networking in a power-efficient manner. A second key issue was achieving seamless networking or roaming of the CONT-TRAK terminal in different regional areas of GlobalWave system operation, worldwide. The remaining technical area was development of the application server interface for users, which would present a seamless data display during container roaming in dfferent regions.


This project has successfully developed a prototype CONT-TRAK terminal with global roaming capability, and an associated application server. The subsequent commercial CONT-TRAK terminal product will enjoy competitive advantage because it can provide low-cost continuous global tracking and monitoring in an inter-modal environment. It exploits both the existing proven GlobalWave system and third generation miniature Core Modem. The commercial CONT-TRAK terminal product will also offer any desired suite of container sensors, along with a user-friendly back office server platform. The entire system is very cost-competitive because it is designed from the outset for volume production and low-cost tracking and monitoring applications.


The overall system architecture is illustrated below.
click for larger image

Core user requirements include: in-transit visibility, low maintenance and extended battery life, global coverage, and a user-friendly interface.

In-transit visibility has been achieved through the integration of an existing GlobalWave satcom capability (with integrated GPS), and a UHF wireless inter-container communications link. A Container Tracking Interface Module (CTIM) on each container communicates with the satcom terminal, with container sensors, and with other containers.

Extended battery life is obtained through proprietary features of the existing GlobalWave system. Global coverage results from seamless roaming through the various GlobalWave coverage regions, worldwide. A user-friendly interface was achieved by the development of a CONT-TRAK server application based on an existing Novacom platform.

Cont-Trak Terminal Installation CTIM including Battery Pack on container end (vertical) and MT3550 on top (horizontal).

click for larger image

click for larger image



The Project Plan was based on a conventional development cycle over 24 months. It began with requirements and specifications, then design and development of hardware and software followed by integration and test, and finally by validation testing.

Current status

The project has been successfully completed, with a Final Review taking place on 26 March 2009. A prototype Cont-Trak terminal and application server has been successfully specified, developed and tested in the lab. Considerable effort was taken in selecting 2.4GHz as the wireless frequency for the Container Tracking Interface Module (CTIM), which would provide both a reasonable range for inter-container communication, and also be permitted for world-wide operation. Both propagation modelling and actual container yard testing were conducted. An effective range of up to 200m was achieved.

As well, limited user trials were conducted on several containers travelling by rail and by ship between Europe and North America. The illustration below shows tracking data for an ARKEMA container originating in France.

click for larger image

ESA contract objectives have been met within budget, but with the original 18 month schedule stretched out to 24 months.

Status date

Thursday, December 22, 2011 - 12:51