Europe’s Proba-V Satellite Tracks Aircraft in Flight

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PARIS — Europe’s Proba-V satellite, launched May 7, has successfully demonstrated that it can capture data on aircraft speed, position and altitude, the German and European space agencies announced June 13.

Flying in a polar orbit at 820 kilometers in altitude, Proba-V on May 23 switched on its Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) receiver and within two hours had harvested more than 12,000 ADS-B messages being emitted by aircraft flying below, the two agencies said.

Many aircraft carry ADS-B transceivers to deliver information on their whereabouts to air-traffic management authorities through terrestrial receivers. In Europe, regulations have been put into place that ultimately will force all aircraft in European airspace to carry ADS-B terminals.

The ADS-B ground receivers do not extend to ocean routes, nor are they currently covering all land masses, which is why government and industry officials in Europe, the United States, Canada and elsewhere have seized on satellites as an ADS-B gap-filler.

Proba-V, whose main mission is to survey Earth’s vegetation cover, carries several demonstration technologies. The ADS-B terminal, developed by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and TechCom of Luxembourg, is one of them.

“Worldwide, this is the first experiment of its kind — and now we have evidence that this concept works,” said Toni Delovski, ADS-B project manager at DLR.

In a June 13 statement, Delovski said the next step for Proba-V’s ADS-B technology is to compare the data it captured with the data received by terrestrial ADS-B terminals to verify accuracy, and to determine the level of sensitivity of the Proba-V terminal to different aircraft signals.

The promise of satellite-delivered ADS-B has not been lost on commercial mobile satellite operators Globalstar and Iridium of the United States, both of which are developing an ADS-B service.

McLean, Va.-based Iridium has created a subsidiary, Aireon LLC, with NavCanada to commercialize a global ADS-B service on Iridium’s second-generation constellation of 72 orbiting satellites, now under construction and scheduled for launch between 2015 and 2017.