Path to Operations

Aireon is well on its way to delivering an operational, global air traffic surveillance capability. The first satellite launch is scheduled for January 14th, 2017, followed shortly by the test and validation of initial data. After testing, the service will be operational in 2018 with launch customers NAV CANADA, Enav, The Irish Aviation Authority, Naviair, NATS, DC-ANSP, Air Traffic and Navigation Services (ATNS) and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS)Seychelles Civil Aviation Authority (SCAA) and Isavia.

Aireon is leveraging the Iridium NEXT constellation. Iridium NEXT will host AireonSM receivers on 66 low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites relaying signals from ADS-B equipped commercial aircraft to aviation stakeholders worldwide.

The Iridium NEXT Constellation

The world’s largest commercial satellite constellation, Iridium NEXT, will maintain a uniquely sophisticated architecture, delivering high-quality coverage over the planet’s entire surface – including oceans, airways and polar regions.

In space, each Iridium NEXT satellite will be linked up to four others – two in the same orbital plane and one in each adjacent plane – creating a dynamic mesh network that routes traffic among satellites to ensure a continuous connection, everywhere.

Combined with redundancies across the network and secure, dedicated ground infrastructure, this unique configuration will allow Iridium® services to remain unaffected by natural disasters, including hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes that can cripple terrestrial infrastructure.

To learn more about Iridium NEXT, visit the Iridium website and Aireon’s page dedicated to the constellation.

SpaceX Launches

The Iridium NEXT satellites – including the Aireon hosted payload – will commence launch during the January of 2017. The first launch will be via SpaceX out of Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on January 14th, 2017.

SpaceX has gained worldwide attention for a series of historic milestones. It was the first private company ever to return a spacecraft from low-earth orbit, which it first accomplished in December 2010. The company made history again in May 2012 when its Dragon spacecraft attached to the International Space Station, exchanged cargo payloads and returned safely to earth — a technically challenging feat previously accomplished only by governments. Since then, the Dragon has delivered cargo to and from the space station multiple times, providing regular cargo resupply missions for NASA. Currently, SpaceX has over 70 launches on its manifest, representing over $10 billion in contracts. These include commercial satellite launches as well as NASA missions.

The Iridium NEXT satellites will be launched on Falcon 9 rockets, holding 10 satellites for the first 7 launches and a ride share for 5 satellites for the 8th launch with the NASA/GFZ Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) mission. For more information on SpaceX and the Iridium NEXT launches, please visit the SpaceX Launch Manifest.

Aireon Milestones and Operational Overview

The Aireon concept was conceived in 2011, and development of the payloads began in 2012, when Harris was awarded the contract to build the receivers. Harris has completed all 81 Aireon payloads as of May 2016. Gearing up for first launch in January 2017, Iridium, Aireon and Harris will begin testing the first live orbiting payload. The initial performance verification will occur one week after the satellites have been launched into orbit. Additional required verification testing will begin two weeks after launch, with a detailed follow-up performance verification after two months in orbit.

Once the Aireon payloads have completed initial testing, Aireon will begin to see live data. This will occur during the first quarter of 2017. Aireon’s launch customers will also begin to receive live data for testing, operations and validation purposes through their service delivery points.

Throughout 2016 and early 2017, Aireon customers will also be performing tests to establish the connections between the Aireon network and the air navigation service provider (ANSP) air traffic management system to validate the performance of the space-based ADS-B data. They will perform Factory Acceptance Testing (FAT), which is the verification of system functionality and assembly per requirements at the factory; Site Acceptance Testing (SAT), the verification of system functionality per requirements at the customer site; and Implementation Service Acceptance Testing (ISAT), the verification of service data per requirements at the customer site.

These milestones are all in preparation for the Aireon service being operational in 2018. Of the signed Aireon customers, both NAV CANADA, NATS and the Irish Aviation Authority have been connected to the Aireon network and are ready to receive test data from the satellites. Enav and Naviair are in the process of having their service delivery points installed.

The testing at the FAA will be slightly different than other Aireon customers. The FAA’s William J. Hughes Technical Center has identified key areas that will be used to evaluate space-based ADS-B. The Technical Center is the focus for NextGen testing prior to any new capabilities being deployed into the operational setting. As the spaced based ADS-B data feeds become live at the service delivery point at the Technical Center, they will start the quality assessment of the key parameters that can drive new capabilities through the multiple FAA automation platforms that feed the air traffic community. The Technical Center houses these platforms in a test environment, allowing for operational tests to be conducted with controllers from the actual facilities. The early exposure of the data to the FAA engineers will provide valuable insight into the robustness of the Aireon service. The FAA currently plans on testing pre-operational space-based ADS-B at the following six defined U.S.-controlled oceanic Flight Information Regions (FIRs): New York Oceanic, Miami Oceanic, Oakland Oceanic, Anchorage Oceanic, Anchorage Arctic, and Houston Oceanic.

Initial Operations

Operations involving the Aireon service will begin in the North Atlantic Ocean (NAT), between the Gander Oceanic FIR, operated by NAV CANADA, and the Shanwick Oceanic FIR, operated by NATS.  NAV CANADA and NATS are working with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to develop the supporting separation standards, using Aireon space-based ADS-B as ATS surveillance and using Controller–Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC) or High Frequency (HF) as the communications means.

For more information on the NAV CANADA deployment of space-based ADS-B, download their case study here: