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Key early tests include how well the spaceborne receivers—flying more than 400 nm above the aircraft being surveilled—perform compared to pre-launch simulations and analyses, and the ability of Iridium’s ground controllers to update the Harris Corp.-built, software-defined Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) hosted payload receivers on the satellites. Software updates are critical to optimize the performance of the receivers and to update the ADS-B message field, position and more than 50 other data fields as standards for the message set evolve.
When the full system is deemed operational and all air navigation service provider (ANSP) certifications and training are complete, nominally April 2018, air traffic controllers can begin offering tactical-grade surveillance for oceanic flights. That means reduced aircraft separation distances for airliners crossing the world’s oceans, starting with the corridor that connects Europe with North America. Although one competing service exists and at least one more is in the works, Aireon—through its data-services contracts and numerous study agreements with ANSPs—seems to have little competition.