Aireon and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have completed a successful flight test of space-based Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) technology, collecting ADS-B data to be used as part of a larger validation effort exploring the new system’s capability from LEO.
The flight took place on Thursday, March 30, 2017, using the FAA’s specially equipped “flying laboratory” Bombardier jet with three AireonSM payloads available to receive data. A total of 2,462 ADS-B messages were received and decoded providing comparable data to that of terrestrial ADS-B stations. The flight test was highly choreographed and precisely located and timed within the Washington and New York Flight Information Regions (FIRs) to help provide validation of the capabilities of the Aireon system.
Made possible by the FAA’s NextGen program, the coordinated flight test involved trials of 125 watt top and bottom-mounted antennas on the FAA’s “flying laboratory” jet known as N47. The aircraft is specially retrofitted with highly calibrated antennas, flight-data test equipment and recorders. Based out of the FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the N47 aircraft helped begin the evaluation and verification of the performance of the Aireon system, particularly in high interference and high density environments. Aireon’s space-based ADS-B global surveillance and aircraft tracking technology is largely a combination of FAA NextGen advancements, and the Iridium® NEXT satellite constellation, which hosts the Aireon ADS-B receivers.
The FAA Tech Center is a pillar of NextGen infrastructure and home to some of the most important advancements in aviation industry history. Among the tests being conducted by the Tech Center team will be the comparative analysis of the Aireon space-based ADS-B data to that of existing ADS-B ground-station data.
Aireon’s space-based ADS-B system will be operational in 2018, shortly after completion of the Iridium NEXT satellite constellation. The service will provide Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) with global air traffic surveillance and airlines with real-time flight tracking. The first ten Iridium NEXT satellites carrying the Aireon hosted-payloads were launched into low-Earth-orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, on January 14, 2017. Seven additional SpaceX launches are scheduled to take place over the next 12 to 15 months, including the second launch now targeted for June of 2017. In total, the operational constellation will consist of 66 satellites, with an additional nine serving as on-orbit spares.
Vinny Capezzuto, Chief Technology Oofficer and Vice President of Engineering at Aireon, reported that a flight test coordinated with the FAA was the ultimate validation accomplishment for the Aireon system to date and is a textbook example of how a public-private partnership can thrive. It is nearly impossible to have a higher fidelity test without the experts at the FAA. The NextGen team and the N47 flight crew are the industry all-stars when it comes to testing and validating technologies. Aireon's ADS-B payloads are really an extension of the NextGen team’s work to-date, ensuring air traffic controllers have the tools they need for the continued safety and efficiency of global travel.”\
“The collaboration between Aireon, its service partner Harris, and the FAA is a testament to our goal of working with industry to continue pushing NextGen technology forward,” said Andy Leone, surveillance and broadcast services, systems engineering lead/test director at the FAA. He then added that the Aireon/Harris team has built a system that has huge potential for improving services for many around the world who lack some surveillance or advanced separation tools, and the FAA is independently validating that their space-based ADS-B service meets the established performance requirements for broadcast surveillance. This test further exemplifies the FAA’s and NextGen program’s commitment to improving air traffic safety and efficiency for global aviation.