On May 22, 2018, Aireon reported the sixth successful launch and deployment of its space-based Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) payloads, hosted by the Iridium NEXT satellite constellation.
At 12:47:58 p.m. PDT, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, bringing the total number of Aireon payloads in orbit to 55.
This leaves just two more launches of 10 satellites each before the launch campaign concludes in 2018. The Aireon system will go live in 2018, with the intention to start operational trials over the North Atlantic in early 2019, according to company officials.
Upon completion, the Aireon system will enable real-time air traffic surveillance across the entire planet for aircraft equipped with ADS-B.
ADS-B is the next generation surveillance technology that is a major enhancement over radar. Several aviation authorities have mandated its equipage, including the FAA and Europe by 2020.
The Aireon system has placed ADS-B receivers on each Iridium NEXT satellite. The receivers gather broadcasted aircraft data and transmits it to air traffic controllers or airline operations centers in mere seconds.
The Iridium NEXT satellite constellation will consist of 66 low-earth orbit crosslinked satellites that blanket the earth with communications coverage. A total of 81 Iridium NEXT satellites are being built, all of which will have the Aireon payload onboard, company officials say.
Currently, 75 satellites are planned to be deployed with nine serving as on-orbit spares and the remaining six as ground spares. The constellation is planned for completion in 2018.