ATM Modernization, Commercial

Iridium Adds ADS-B to its Iridium NEXT Constellation

By by Emily Feliz | June 20, 2012
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Former Transportation Secretary Norman
Mineta discusses Iridium’s joint venture Aireon.

Satellite operator Iridum, through its new joint venture Aireon, will be putting automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) receivers on its next-generation satellite constellation, aimed at bringing global, real-time aircraft surveillance for air navigation service providers (ANSP).

The joint venture between Iridium and Canadian ANSP Nav Canada, with support from FAA and suppliers Harris Corp. and ITT Exelis, will enable continuous space-based monitoring and control of aircraft, using space-qualified 1090 MHz Extended Squitter (ES) ADS-B receivers built into each of the 66 satellites in Iridium NEXT, Iridium’s second-generation satellite constellation. Iridium NEXT satellites are scheduled to launch from 2015 to 2017, and will provide this capability as the new satellites are commissioned, with full service expected by 2017. The receivers each weight about 100 pounds and will be fully integrated into the satellite. Nav Canada will be Aireon’s first customer.

“I am excited that Iridium will once again be able to use its unique global satellite network to expand connectivity beyond the limitations of ground-based systems,” said Matt Desch, CEO of Iridium. “Just as we opened the world of personal communications far beyond the 10 percent of the Earth’s surface that is covered by terrestrial networks, we are now extending the reach of land-based aircraft tracking systems. This is a big milestone for commercially hosted payloads and it will be a ground-breaking use of Iridium NEXT. Iridium is the only company with the capability and reach to enable this, and we are thrilled that our service will make air travel more efficient and safer. Aireon is truly revolutionary.”

Desch told Avionics Magazine the system is designed to provide aircraft surveillance data for areas not currently served by terrestrial systems, namely the North Atlantic. “We’ve had some pretty detailed discussions with a number of ANSPs, the obvious one would be NATS, but we’ve also talked to others, quite a few others, around the world,” he said. “We’re not being built for handling high, dense terminal area traffic. We’re offering a service for over places where there are no ground systems. It’s one of the reasons why we’re so complementary to ground-based systems.”

ITT Exelis, which is under contract with FAA to deploy the ADS-B ground infrastructure in the United States, will act as the system integrator for the Aireon project. (ITT said it will be necessary to make modifications to its ground infrastructure to accommodate the network, but said the changes would be modest.) Harris has been selected as the payload provider, providing 81 space-qualified ADS-B receivers to fly as hosted payloads on Iridium NEXT, including in-orbit and ground spares. Fieldstone Partners and NEXA Capital Partners, which manages a $1.5 billion capital investment for operators to equipment with NextGen technology, are advising and supporting Iridium in the formation of Aireon LLC.

 In the United States, FAA has been working with Iridium and the Aireon team over the past year to evaluate the capabilities of space-based ADS-B systems, Iridium said. “Because the insight and control of air traffic management through
space-based ADS-B is unparalleled, the FAA will be engaged with Iridium and its Aireon partners in setting the specifications and configuration of space-based ADS-B surveillance,” said Chris Metts, FAA air traffic vice president, Program Management Organization. Desch said aircraft utilizing this system will not be required to install additional equipment. “What we liked about this idea and what I think Nav Canada and all the others who got involved in this like what we doing was taking advantage of what that was already on the airplane and make it more valuable to the airlines,” Desch told Avionics.

Assuming the successful negotiation of long-term service contracts with Nav Canada and other ANSPs, Aireon is expected to generate about $200 million in one-time hosting fees for the integration and launch of the payloads between 2014 and 2017. Iridium also expects to receive annual data fee revenue and have a significant retained interest in Aireon, which will evolve it from being the largest shareholder today to between 40-50 percent ownership during the deployment of Iridium NEXT. 

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