June 21, 2017

Aireon: Making space-based ADS-B a reality

The Iridium NEXT satellites are encapsulated in the SpaceX rocket. Credit: Iridium

On January 14, 2017, at 9:54 a.m. Pacific Time, a Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base on the California coast. The SpaceX rocket carried with it a record-sized delivery that included the first 10 Iridium® NEXT satellites hosting Aireon’s Automated Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) technology.

It was an important milestone on the road to making space-based ADS-B a reality.

This coming weekend, on June 25, 2017, the second rocket-launch is expected to place 10 more Iridium NEXT satellites equipped with the AireonSM payload into low-earth orbit. By mid-2018 the 66-satellite constellation will be complete, along with nine in-orbit spares. When Aireon goes live, its service will be a game changer for how air traffic control is provided around the world.

Once operational, space-based ADS-B will enable 100 percent global air-traffic surveillance coverage, bringing major safety and efficiency benefits for airlines and all aviation stakeholders. Currently more than 70 per cent of the earth’s surface has no existing air-traffic surveillance. Space-based ADS-B will provide coverage over remote regions, the poles and oceans.

This is of particular importance in Canada, where space-based ADS-B will provide air traffic surveillance coverage for the first time in areas of oceanic airspace, close radar surveillance gaps in remote arctic areas of the county, while also providing valuable backup to existing radar facilities. Operators in NAV CANADA controlled airspace will benefit from improved routings, enhanced opportunities to climb to more efficient flight levels or avoid weather as well as the safety benefits of positive surveillance.

Polar routes are increasingly used by airlines to reduce flight times, fuel burn and emissions between city pairs. The launch of Aireon service will improve NAV CANADA’s ability to guide these flights through Canadian arctic airspace, ensuring 100 per cent coverage throughout.

How does it work?

The Iridium NEXT satellites, which host the Aireon technology, will orbit in what is referred to as low-earth orbit, approximately 780 kms above the earth. 66 satellites (11 satellites in each of six orbital planes), create a cross-linked mesh network that provides coverage pole-to-pole. The satellites travel at approximately 27,000 kilometres per hour, completing an orbit of the Earth every 100 minutes.

ADS-B receivers on each satellite will receive ADS-B messages from aircraft containing position, speed and heading. This data is then streamed to Aireon’s operations centre before being distributed to Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) and other customers worldwide. The update interval performance is expected to be <8 seconds when operational

Did you know

The first ever flight test of the Aireon space-based ADS-B system was conducted in early March 2017 by a team from NAV CANADA flying one of our CRJ-200 flight inspection aircraft across Northern Canada. Details on that first test can be found here: Aireon Test Flight : Collecting performance data


Great technology. Will it be availab to the general aviation pilot with the required equipment? The guys that fly C-172, Cherokees, etc? Thanks for your time.

I am so glad to see this happen and even more so that it’s a Canadian project that’s pushing ADSB into the forefront. Maybe lost aircraft will be more or less a thing of the past and of course then all the other benefits of tighter flight paths, safety etc. is also a huge benefit.

Will ADS-B (In) equipped aircraft receive traffic and weather information from the satellites, as they do today from ground-based ADS-B?


Success! SpaceX launches second batch of 10 Iridium NEXT satellites with Aireon payload

On June 25 2017, a SpaceX rocket carrying 10 Iridium NEXT satellites launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Onboard these...

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