Global Air Traffic Management That’s Out of This World

Image courtesy of Aireon

One hundred percent of the planet, including the remotest of airspace, is about to be included in global air traffic surveillance for the first time thanks to an advanced, space-based automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) network.

Aireon launched the first Iridium NEXT satellites dedicated for a space-based ADS-B network in January. This new system is expected to revolutionize air traffic control (ATC) and flight tracking. At present, nearly 70 percent of the planet has no existing ATC surveillance.

Aireon partnered with Iridium Communications to make this new global ADS-B surveillance service possible. Though 10 Iridium NEXT satellites were just launched and deployed, there will be 81 satellites deployed in total – 66 operational spacecraft, six on-orbit spares and nine ground-backup spacecraft. All will be equipped with the AireonSM payload. Over the next 15 months, Iridium will rely on its partner, SpaceX for continued support in launching the remaining satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base, located outside of Lompoc, California. Six more launches have been planned.

Aireon is targeting mid-2018 for the full array of the Iridium NEXT constellation to be operational. This lead time will afford Aireon the time it needs to fully test the network on performance. Some test scenarios will include high traffic areas, low-power transponders and the like. Critical flight testing will also be performed in all dense airspace regions.

Once the satellites are placed into low-earth orbit, Iridium conducts testing over the following 40-60-days. Next, Aireon commences it’s testing and validating over a 60-day period. After all testing and validation are completed, the Aireon ADS-B receivers, manufactured by Harris Corporation will begin providing air traffic surveillance data from 1090ES-equipped aircraft to the service delivery points (SDPs) for partners on the ground. These partners include NAV CANADA, NATS, ENAV, the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA), the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and others. NAV CANADA has also signed on as Aireon’s first customer.

Additional benefits from the new ADS-B network will include improved aviation safety and efficiency, and reduced greenhouse gas (namely CO2) emissions, according to findings produced by studies from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana and the Flight Safety Foundation.

Down the road, Aireon will launch another service, known as Aireon ALERT, which will be a free global aircraft tracking service hosted and operated by IAA from the North Atlantic Communications Center in Ballygirreen, Ireland. This is in addition to the GlobalBeacon flight tracking system that was previously launched in partnership with FlightAware.

GlobalBeacon is designed to enable airlines to comply with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Global Aeronautical Distress Safety System (GADSS) requirements and provides airlines with critical, up-to-the-minute flight tracking data.

  • The North Atlantic Track System is the busiest body of oceanic airspace in the world.
  • The Iridium NEXT satellite is a completely new design that allows the satellites to communicate with each other and to create a mesh network in the sky.
  • Qatar Airways was the first airline to adopt the GlobalBeacon solution.

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