Nav Canada, the operator of Canada’s air traffic and air navigation system, and Iridium, the satellite communications company that will launch its replacement constellation in a few years, today announced a joint venture to implement and commercialize ADS-B based global air traffic surveillance. The system will carry ADS-B receiver payloads on all of Iridium’s new satellites (66 + spares), to provide coverage everywhere on Earth, together with the capacity to relay the the data to the ground. They plan to provide the data to air traffic service providers to augment ground-based surveillance, and enable active air traffic control in remote and oceanic airspace.
This is the exact plan I worked out in my Master’s thesis. That work focused first on the physics of the signal reception, second on the mission design of a satellite system to receive the signals, and third on the considerations for implementing such a system. I published that thesis two years ago, and, in fact, Nav Canada’s manager for new ADS-B projects was on my thesis committee. I’ve since presented the concept at national and international space conferences — including the International Astronautical Congress last year.
It’s fun to see that the research I did for my Master’s degree has a real and valuable application. This has the potential to change the way we control air traffic around the world, and to make global aviation safer, more efficient, faster, less polluting, and more effective. For reference, that thesis was titled “Detection of Automatic Dependent Surveillance — Broadcast signals using stratospheric and orbital platforms”, but you can read a 2-page summary here.