We’ve written a lot about what’s going on with ADS-B requirements for GA aircraft – who needs them, where to get them, and whether or not it will be worth all of the hassle. We haven’t talked much about what’s happening with the getting the surveillance network itself up and running. Right now, it’s looking like the system will be good to go well before the FAA’s 2020 ADS-B mandate takes effect.
On January 14th, the first ten satellites to be used for the Aireon ADS-B air traffic surveillance network were launched into space. They are part of the Iridium NEXT satellite constellation, carried to orbit by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Iridium NEXT is scheduled to replace the existing Iridium satellites – currently the largest commercial satellite constellation in space.
Aireon LLC was formed by Iridium Communications in partnership with NAV CANADA, Italy’s ENAV, the Irish Aviation Authority, and Danish Naviair. In addition to their aim to provide air traffic surveillance anywhere (and everywhere) on the planet, Aireon says they will offer emergency location services, real-time aircraft position detection, and ADS-B-based analytical data. They expect to be operational by 2018. If they make it, and barring something unexpected, they will, that will give the FAA two years to figure out any bugs before the GA community will be expected to use it.
So what happens next? The ten satellites in orbit will need to be thoroughly tested. Iridium and Aireon will spend the next several months checking and verifying the on-orbit technical specifications. Once that is complete, testing of the Harris Corporation built ADS-B receivers will commence. The FAA will take part in the testing through the William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
As for the rest of the NEXT network, seven more launches are planned within the next 18 months. Once complete, a total of 81 Iridium NEXT satellites, each equipped with the Aireon ADS-B payload, will be in orbit.