While one objective of North American and European drives to improve air traffic control is to exploit the automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) systems that could augment or even replace radar as a way to track aircraft in flight, one telecommunications company hopes to go a step further and use satellites to monitor position signals.

Luxembourg-based SES Techcom, working with Germany's DLR research agency, produced an ADS-B transceiver that is now orbiting on the European Space Agency's newest Earth observation satellite, Proba-V, launched in May. Now, for the first time, a satellite will be able to detect ADS-B signals emitted by aircraft. These signals will be monitored and processed by a SES ground station.

ADS-B is being phased in globally, and all aircraft entering European airspace are required to be equipped with the system by 2015. The signals, broadcast every second to specify an aircraft's velocity based on GPS, can be received by other aircraft or air traffic controllers on the ground.

SES wants to use the Proba-V signals to determine how many aircraft and which type of aircraft can be observed worldwide.

Satellite reception and rebroadcast of ADS-B signals could ensure, for example, that aircraft were tracked even when out of radar coverage in remote locations.

"The Proba-V demonstration mission allows for the detection of ADS-B signals from 820km [510 miles] up in orbit, and for us to assess the feasibility of exploiting signals from that altitude for future commercial services," says SES managing director Gerhard Bethscheider.

Source: Flight International