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A newly completed constellation of satellites is poised to provide unprecedented tracking of the hundreds of thousands of aircraft that soar over the Earth every day. It’s a type of global coverage that’s never been fully realized before, but it has the potential to influence how air traffic is managed throughout the world.
The satellite constellation is Iridium NEXT, and it consists of 75 vehicles — 66 operational ones and nine spares. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched the last batch of 10 satellites for the system on January 11th, out of California, and yesterday Iridium declared the constellation complete. The main function of Iridium NEXT is to provide global telecommunications coverage. But each satellite in the constellation is also equipped with a special receiver, technology that will eventually make it possible to track every single airplane flying in the sky — no matter where they are on Earth.