January 17, 2019

Aireon Satellite Constellation Complete


Late last week a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, carrying the final 10 Iridium NEXT satellites into orbit and completing the Aireon constellation of 66 operational and 9 spare satellites.

Once fully operational, Aireon, majority-owned by Nav Canada, will be able to provide real-time surveillance of suitably-equipped aircraft anywhere in the world. To participate, an aircraft will need to be equipped with ADS-B OUT technology that transmits on 1090 MHz.

Benefits of the system will initially be most advantageous to airlines and the global air traffic control system (ATC). The worldwide coverage Aireon provides will allow ATC to provide more direct routing over surface areas of the planet where ground radar cannot reach, such as polar and oceanic routes, thereby saving time and fuel, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In Canada, Nav Canada-operated ground-based ADS-B technology has been in place for a number of years, allowing the continual tracking of aircraft over Hudson Bay and beyond, areas where ground-based radar was unable to monitor.

When contacted by eFlight, Ben Girard, Nav Canada’s vice-president of operational support, said Aireon will “presumably make redundant and obsolete Nav Canada’s ADS-B ground network.”

An ADS-B mandate for Canada is still unannounced, but is most certainly to require the use of 1090MHz technology to make it compatible with the Aireon’s space-based system.

Aireon ALERT (Aireon Aircraft Locating and Emergency Response Tracking) is a service being made available within the next two to three months. Operated by the Irish Aviation Authority, it will allow for the location of aircraft on an emergency basis. It is available free of charge to air navigation service providers, commercial aircraft operators, regulators and search and rescue organizations. However, it is not available to private aircraft operators.