Aireon Will Add ADS-B Receivers to Iridium Satellites for Worldwide Aircraft Surveillance

 - July 4, 2012, 12:15 AM

A planned joint venture by Iridium Communications and Nav Canada promises to offerworldwide ADS-B-based air traffic surveillance services using the upcoming Iridium Next satellite network. Iridium said last year that it was considering adding an ADS-B payload to its Iridium Next satellites, which begin launching in 2015 and will be completed in 2017. The Iridium-Nav Canada joint venture, called Aireon, will add 1090ES ADS-B receivers made by Harris to each of the 66 satellites (and backups) destined to form the Iridium Next constellation. Iridium is aware that its choice of the name Aireon sounds the same as supersonic business jet developer Aerion’s moniker when spoken, and in print is only one transposed letter different, but feels that the name “accurately reflects the vision and strategy of the company and works well with various cultures worldwide,” according to an Iridium spokeswoman. Iridium filed the Aireon trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on December 1 last year.

The low-earth-orbiting Iridium satellites will offer worldwide coverage, including polar regions, and with the ADS-B payloads “will provide complete visibility to all aircraft everywhere,” according to Iridium, “helping ANSPs [air navigation service providers] decrease inefficiencies. This new capability will extend the benefits of current radar-based surveillance systems, which cover less than 10 percent of the world, to the entire planet.” Aireon is expected to become operational in 2018, two years before the FAA’s ADS-B out equipage mandatetakes effect.

Benefits of Aireon include fuel and emissions savings from optimal routing, more closely spaced traffic and extended operational safety provided by the ability to track ADS-B/Iridium-equipped aircraft anywhere in the world. “ANSPs will be able to introduce active ATC to wherever airlines fly,” said Nav Canada president and CEO John Crichton. “We know first-hand how important it is to find a solution in areas not reachable by traditional means. Airplanes must fly on predefined routes that force use of inefficient altitudes and do not take advantage of constantly moving jet streams. We’ve been working for years to find ways to improve remote and oceanic travel. Instead of limiting [coverage] to ADS-B surveillance around the edges of oceans, we will be able to extend [coverage] across oceans, starting with the North Atlantic. ANSPs will be able to introduce active ATC to wherever airlines fly, with all the benefits that will bring.”

While general aviation was never mentioned during the Aireon press conference on June 19, the Iridium spokeswoman told AIN, “GA operators can certainly use the benefits of Aireon as long as they are equipped with 1090 MHz ADS-B equipment. Any airplane having this equipment on board will be visible to controllers and will be provided better services.”

ADS-B ground stations are being installed all over the world and are set to cover the entire U.S. next year, but there is no way to provide surveillance over oceans or remote areas that lack radar coverage without using satellite communications. Aircraft are already broadcasting GPS-derived position information over satellite networks on oceanic routes, but the Aireon system adds the ADS-B ground station technology to a worldwide satellite network, thus making it possible to deliver comprehensive surveillance data to ANSPs that plan to work with Aireon.

“The capability that Aireon will bring to navigation is substantial,” said Don Thoma, who will be president and CEO of Aireon. “This extends the reach of ground stations that are being built today.”