Space-based ADS-B a step closer

Image: iStock | © DaveAlan

A deal reached at a United Nations agency meeting last week will open the way for satellite tracking of commercial jetliners.

The agreement, which was reached at the Radiocommunication Conference held in Geneva, Switzerland, allows nations to set aside radio frequencies enabling future tracking to be performed by satellites.

Current tracking technology, such as automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B), is dependent on ground infrastructure to track aircraft, leaving large portions of the world’s surface uncovered.

‘These global blind spots will soon disappear’, says the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the leading United Nations agency for information and communication technologies.

‘In 2017 ADS-B receivers on satellites will relay signals from all the ADS-B equipped aircraft to air traffic controllers worldwide. This will provide near real-time visibility of ADS-B equipped aircraft in any flight information region including currently unsurveyed oceanic polar, desert and mountainous airspace,’ says the ITU.

‘Space-based ADS-B will enable the optimisation of flight paths, increase operational in fuel efficiency for airlines and significantly enhance safety all with little investment in infrastructure.’

The deal will see the ITU dedicate the frequency band 1087.7 to 1092.3 MHz for satellites and space stations to receive ADS-B emissions from aircraft transmitters.

The agreement comes after the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight 370 last year, which left the travelling public bewildered that an aircraft could simply disappear and aviation safety bodies scrambling to create a better system to regain their trust.

Less than a month after the flights disappearance, Tony Tyler, director general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), argued that the possibility of a passenger plane disappearing in today’s connected world was unbelievable.

‘In a world where our every move seems to be tracked, there is disbelief both that an aircraft could simply disappear and that the flight data and cockpit recorders are so difficult to recover,’ he said.

Tyler called for sweeping changes across the industry, affirming that while accidents are rare, ‘the current search for MH370 is a reminder that we can never be complacent on safety…we cannot let another aircraft simply vanish.’

‘In reaching this agreement at WRC-15, the ITU has responded in record time to the expectations of the global community,’ said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which recommended a 15-minute aircraft tracking standard earlier this year, has set a deadline for November 2016 for airlines to install tracking technology.

Flight Safety Australia first reported on the prospect of space-based ADS-B in July last year, highlighting the technologies ability to allow surveillance coverage to be extended into areas where the installation of ground infrastructure is impossible.

You can read more about space-based ADS-B at


  1. I was pushing this technology in 1996, and pushing against the prevailing industrial politics of the day which was set on preserving empires. Unfortunately the cost of their victory in Australia has been enormous and certainly less safe; that is the legacy of many individuals who controlled our governing bodies at the time. Another cost was the lack of development of backup systems, for when satellite based ADS-B fail .. and, fail it will, at some point.

    When it does, the system will have no way of handling the traffic loads without such a high capacity, computerised system such as ADS-B. The solution is “autonomous” acft able to share their GPS positioning etc with nearby acft, forming a ‘chain’ back to ATC and, near heavy traffic airports there would need to be a a network of ground based international DMEs. The cost should come down to something comparable to a phone tower and from what I understand, it is the only nav solution that would provide the system with the necessary accuracy.
    Of course the more autonomous acft are, and more able to separate themselves, the less likely the powers that be, will go for it … The $$s they make as profit for their empire .. is yours.


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