The FAA and Aireon have successfully completed test flight of space-based Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) technology. This is a part of the larger effort and ADS-B data has been collected which will be used to validate the capability of the new system from low-earth orbit.
This test flight was carried out on March 30, 2017. The FAA used its specially equipped Bombardier jet nick named as “flying laboratory” along with payloads from Aireon to receive data.
The test flight was located precisely and highly choreographed and timed with the New York and Washington Flight Information Regions (FIRs). This helped to validate the capabilities of the Aireon system, as per officials from Aireon.
A total of 2,462 ADS-B messages were received and decoded. It provided data to compare that with terrestrial ADS-B stations.
This test flight was made possible by NextGen program from the FAA. It involved trials on 125 watt bottom and top mounted antennas on the “flying laboratory” jet of the FAA known as N47.
The aircraft has special flight-data test equipment and recorders and highly calibrated antennas. The N47 aircraft is based at William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It helped in evaluating and verifying the performance of the Aireon system, specifically in high density and high interference environments.
The space-based ADS-B global surveillance and aircraft tracking technology from Aireon is a combination of the Iridium NEXT satellite constellation, that hosts ADS-B receivers from Aireon and FAA Next Gen advancements.
According to Vinny Capezzuto, chief technology officer and vice president of engineering at Aireon, this flight test to validate the work of Aireon system is a good example of public-private partnership. It is almost impossible to have such a high quality testing without the technical expertise from the FAA.
When it comes to testing and validating new technology, there is no better than N47 crew and the Next Gen team. The ADS-B payloads are an extension of the work to-date from the NextGen team. It will ensure that air traffic controllers have the means to provide efficient global travel and continued safety.
The Tech Center of FAA is home to some of the biggest advancements in the history of aviation industry and is a pillar of Next Gen infrastructure. The tests carries out by Tech Center team will also compare the existing ADS-B ground-station with that of Aireon space-based ADS-B data.
According to Andy Leone, surveillance and broadcast services, systems engineering lead / test director at the FAA, the partnership between the FAA, Aireon, and its service partner Harris is an example of the objective to continue working to push the Next Gen technology forward.
The system that has been built by Aireon / Harris team has a big potential to improve services for many across the globe who do not have advanced surveillance and separation tools.
The space based ADS-B system from Aireon will start its operation in 2018, soon after the Iridium NEXT satellite constellation is complete. This service will give the power of global air traffic surveillance to Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) and real-time flight tracking to airlines.
On January 14, 2017, the first 10 Iridium NEXT satellites that carry the Aireon payloads were launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
Seven more SapceX launched have been planned out in the next twelve to fifteen months. The second launch is expected to take place in June 2017. There will be 66 satellites in total in the operational constellation. Nine satellites will serve as on-orbit spares.