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Harris Corp. Completes Space Qualification Testing of Hosted Payload for Global Aircraft Tracking System

March 11, 2014  - By
Image: GPS World

Harris Corporation has achieved a key milestone under a five-year contract with Aireon LLC that will create the first global satellite-based aircraft tracking system. The announcement was made during the SATELLITE 2014 Conference and Exhibition, held March 10-13 at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C.

The company’s Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) 1090 Extended Squitter receiver payload has been successfully tested and qualified for simulated operation in the harsh environment of space for more than 12 years. Simulated performance testing also validated the agility of the payload to adapt to evolving aircraft traffic patterns over the same span of time.

Harris is providing Aireon with 81 of the ADS-B receiver payloads. They will be hosted on board the Iridium NEXT satellite constellation to enable precise aircraft tracking that will optimize air traffic management around the world. Ground-based ADS-B networks, which process GPS signals and other data from aircraft, are limited by an infrastructure that cannot monitor flights over oceans or remote regions, a limitation now highlighted by the disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines jetliner on March 8.

The Harris payloads are based on the company’s AppStar reconfigurable payload platform. They will be mounted on 66 low Earth-orbiting satellites, six on-orbit spares and nine ground spares that comprise the Iridium NEXT constellation. The air traffic surveillance function will be performed separately from the main mission of the spacecraft. The constellation’s main mission is providing voice and data coverage to satellite phones, pagers and integrated transceivers over Earth’s entire surface. The launch of the first Iridium NEXT satellite is planned for 2015.

“Completion of this testing verifies that our payload design works for its intended environment and moves us into the production phase,” said Bill Gattle, vice president and general manager, National Programs, Harris Government Communications Systems. “This program exemplifies the benefits of a public-private partnership model, using commercially hosted payloads to get both government and commercial mission capabilities into space without the time and cost required to build and launch separate satellites.”

“Harris has met or exceeded all of the major milestones in the development and test of the receiver payload for this groundbreaking program,” said Don Thoma, president and CEO, Aireon. “The combined, powerful offering our collective organizations will provide to the global air traffic community will transform air travel.”

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