“When we first turned on the payloads after they reached orbit, we received an unexpected surprise – aircraft were immediately being seen in real-time,” said Aireon CEO, Don Thoma. “We’ve already seen commercial aircraft, general aviation aircraft and helicopters, in oceanic and remote airspace that have never before had real-time surveillance. The real fun for us now begins as we take control and push the performance to see just what space-based ADS-B can do.”
In late January, the first “power-on” for the AireonSM ADS-B payload was performed to validate launch survival and run a self-diagnostic systems check. During this systems check, Aireon did not expect to see any aircraft, however the payload antennas were active and 150 ADS-B aircraft were detected over multiple-passes with thousands of ADS-B messages received and decoded. Among some of the firsts for the Aireon system are:
- The first officially received ADS-B message was Korean Airlines 530
- The first full ADS-B position message decode was SAS 4576
- The first U.S. carrier ADS-B message was UA 86 to Shanghai
- The first aircraft detected landing at an airport was NextJet 594 in Sweden
“Detecting NextJet 594 was an added bonus,” said Vincent Capezzuto, CTO for Aireon. “This is an early proof-point of the power of the Aireon ADS-B payload and its ability to detect aircraft close to the ground and in terminal airspace.”
Aireon’s space-based ADS-B system will be operational in 2018, shortly after completion of the Iridium NEXT satellite constellation. The service will provide Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) with global air traffic surveillance and airlines with real-time flight tracking. It is expected to help reduce fuel costs, increase safety, and enable more efficient flight paths. The first 10 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, on January 14, 2017. Seven additional SpaceX launches are scheduled to take place over the next 12 to 15 months, including the second launch now targeted for mid-June 2017. In total, the operational constellation consists of 66 satellites, while the remaining nine launched will serve as on-orbit spares.