Proba-V shows space-based aircraft monitoring is possible


June 14, 2013

ESA’s Proba-V satellite pinpointed the location of aircraft in flight over the Atlantic approach to western Europe and the UK through their ADS-B signals

ESA’s Proba-V satellite pinpointed the location of aircraft in flight over the Atlantic approach to western Europe and the UK through their ADS-B signals

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When the ESA’s Proba-V was launched on May 7, its main mission was to map land cover and vegetation growth across the entire surface of the Earth every two days. But the miniaturized ESA satellite is also casting its gaze higher, to test whether it is possible to track aircraft continuously from space. Proba-V has now shown this is indeed possible, by becoming the first satellite to pick up aircraft tracking signals from space.

Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B) is set to replace radar as the primary tracking technology for aircraft worldwide. ADS-B offers numerous advantages over radar, including greater accuracy due to the fact it relies on GPS, which will allow aircraft to fly closer together in congested airspace. It also broadcasts information on the aircraft, including speed, position and altitude.

And because it is a broadcast technology, ADS-B signals can be received not only by air traffic control on the ground, but also by other aircraft in the air. Proba-V has now shown these signals can also be detected from space, making it possible to monitor aircraft in remote areas and over oceans. While ADS-B stations are cheaper to deploy than ground-based radar, they are still not economically feasible for many remote areas and aren’t possible across expanses of ocean. Space-based monitoring would overcome these problems.

Although the ADS-B signals are relatively weak, Proba-V's experimental receiver was able to record over 12,000 ADS-B messages within two hours at an altitude of 820 km (510 miles) without any need to upgrade existing aircraft equipment. The German Aerospace Center (DLR), which is overseeing the experiment, now plans to see how many aircraft can be observed and, because different sized aircraft are assigned different signal strengths, which types of aircraft can be detected.

“Space-based ADS-B monitoring holds a lot of potential in terms of security and safety – including search and rescue for airspace not covered by ground-based surveillance,” says Toni Delovski of the DLR. “Filling in these gaps has obvious value. Moreover, it may allow aircraft to traverse regions with decreased separation between them and on more efficient routes, boosting overall traffic capacity while cutting fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions.”

Source: ESA

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick
1 Comment

It may cost a lot more but laying environmentally powered buoys to cover the worlds oceans is possible.

The real question is how they keep the beacons from stepping on each others transmissions.

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