Automatic Dependant Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B) Communications Signal Receiver
Updated in June 2015
Now-Technology to Next Systems
In this day and age, it’s hard to comprehend that technology created during the Second World War is still being used to surveil airspace and track aircraft throughout the world. Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSP), airlines, air traffic controllers and other stakeholders continue to rely on radar as their primary source of surveillance. More recently, technologies such as Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) and Wide Area Multilateration (WAM) have become accepted alternatives.
However, current land-based systems are limited to line of sight, leaving an estimated 70% of the world’s Flight Information Regions (FIR) uncovered by any real-time surveillance. With technology that would provide global real-time surveillance, business practices and safety will be improved and also allow for more environmentally friendly operations.
In 2012, Aireon was formed through a joint venture between Iridium Communications and NAV CANADA, with subsequent investments from ENAV, the Irish Aviation Authority and Naviair, to provide a space-based, real-time surveillance system.
Hosted Payloads and the Realization of Global Aircraft Surveillance
The backbone of Aireon’s technology resides on the Iridium NEXT constellation of satellites gearing up to launch at the end of 2015. To enable the Aireon® system, Iridium will host specially designed payloads on each Iridium NEXT satellite.
Aireon’s CEO, Don Thoma, understands the importance of hosted payloads, having served as the Hosted Payload Alliance’s Founding Chairman. The hosted payload model is a critical enabler of the Aireon space-based aircraft surveillance system and can be a similar enabler for other critical applications.
According to Thoma, “Hosted payloads create an unprecedented opportunity for new space applications by providing cost-effective access to space-based infrastructure. When we first started exploring hosted payloads on Iridium NEXT, we realized that the aviation industry would benefit by putting ADS-B, the FAA’s next-generation GPS-based surveillance technology, in space. Aireon is coming to fruition by the merging of two important components – Iridium NEXT with ADS-B receiver hosted payloads built by Harris.” He added, “This combination of technologies will enable a breakthrough air traffic management capability by providing real-time, global aircraft surveillance at an affordable cost to aviation stakeholders.”
Figure 1: The Harris Corporation is manufacturing the ADS-B receiver hosted payload that has a highly sensitive Aireon receiver coupled with multiple steerable beams, all capable of detecting aircraft with ADS-B compliant avionics. Image courtesy of Aireon.
Iridium NEXT’s low-latency, 66 cross-linked Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites make it uniquely suited to meet the technical demands of global air traffic monitoring. The LEO satellites will orbit approximately 485 miles above the earth, and each satellite will be cross-linked, creating a dynamic network to ensure continuous availability in every FIR on the globe with low latency and update rates suitable for air traffic control.
The Aireon receivers located in each hosted payload will detect ADS-B signals from next generation equipped commercial aircraft all over the world – including vital airways over oceans, mountains, remote areas and polar regions – relaying them seamlessly to air traffic controllers on the ground.
According to Matt Desch, CEO of Iridium “Aireon represents a big milestone for commercially hosted payloads and will serve as a ground-breaking use of Iridium NEXT. Iridium is the only company with the capability and reach to enable this, and we are thrilled that our service will make air travel more efficient and safer. Aireon is truly revolutionary.”
The Harris Corporation is manufacturing the ADS-B receiver hosted payload that has a highly sensitive Aireon receiver coupled with multiple steerable beams, all capable of detecting aircraft with ADS-B compliant avionics. The overlapping satellite beams provide for multiple views of aircrafts from multiple satellites. This increases the ability to detect the aircraft at a high update rate.
Additionally, built into the Iridium® mesh network of satellites is the ability to transfer data between satellites to the ground receivers through a low latency data link. The information will then be distributed through a highly redundant processing center for use by Aireon customers.
Aireon figure 2
Figure 2: The Iridium NEXT Constellation with Aireon payloads will orbit approximately 485 miles above the earth, and each satellite will be cross-linked, creating a dynamic network to provide continuous availability of coverage in every FIR on the globe. Image courtesy of Aireon..
Tomorrow’s Technology from Concept to Reality
Aireon is working in partnership with Iridium, along with the leading ANSPs NAV CANADA, ENAV, the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) and NAVIAIR to deploy the robust system.
The system will undergo rigorous testing over the next two years. The testing will be done by Aireon, and its launch customers in the North Atlantic and Europe and will ensure all safety cases are being completed. With the first launch of satellites scheduled later this year, and the full network expected to be completed in 2017, investors and partners will have several years to prove the concept before implementing it, with many additional ANSPs in the process of joining this group of pioneers.