The FAA and Aireon completed a flight test using space-based automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) technology in the New York and Washington flight information regions. The test collected ADS-B data to be used as part of a larger validation effort exploring the new system’s capability from low-earth orbit. According to Aireon, 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 completed at the end of March at the FAA's William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It used the FAA’s specially equipped Bombardier airborne laboratory equipped with highly calibrated antennas, flight-data test equipment and recorders. The N47 aircraft helped begin the evaluation and verification of the performance of the Aireon system, particularly in high interference and high density environments.
According to Andy Leone, the FAA's surveillance and broadcast services, systems engineering lead/test director, the agency is “independently validating that their space-based ADS-B service meets FAA established performance requirements for broadcast surveillance.”
Aireon’s space-based ADS-B system is scheduled to become fully operational in 2018. 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 Jan. 14. Seven additional SpaceX launches are scheduled to take place over the next 12 to 15 months, including the second launch now targeted for June 2017. In total, the operational constellation will consist of 66 satellites, with an additional nine serving as on-orbit spares.