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ESA and Inmarsat deploy real-time “4D” air traffic control system

Tom Mendelsohn
An Iris terminal onboard an airplane.
European Space Agency
The European Space Agency is trialling the use of a new always-on satellite-based system in an effort to modernise Europe's, and thenceforth the world's, air traffic control systems.
Currently, depending on the territory and the aircraft, air traffic control uses a mix of radar, semi-regular location pings from the aircraft (ADS-B), and good ol' human-to-human chatter. This data is pumped into a computer system that calculates a path that each aircraft must follow to avoid collisions, obey any air space restrictions, and hopefully use as little fuel as possible.
Airbus, Inmarsat, ESA, and various other aerospace partners believe that an advanced satellite-based system could allow for a higher density of aircraft in the skies and more efficient flight paths. Thus, Inmarsat and ESA announced today that it has begun testing the Iris Precursor, which provides a secure high-capacity data link between planes and satellites and between satellites and ground control.
ESA claims that the new tech, which may eventually require an Iris terminal/transponder to be attached to every plane in European airspace, provides "4D" flightpath control. Prosaically, this means it provides four coordinates, locating each aircraft according to latitude, longitude, altitude, and time—which ESA says "will enable precise tracking of flights and more efficient management of traffic."
“As air traffic volume continues to increase, the digitisation of the cockpit is one of the ways to alleviate current congestion on traditional radio frequencies and optimise European airspace," said Mary McMillan, Inmarsat’s VP of aviation safety and operational services. “Using the power and security of satellite connectivity through Iris clearly changes the game in comparison to the ground technology in use today.”
The Iris Precursor uses Inmarsat's SwiftBroadband-Safety satellite service. It's currently being tested on one aircraft based at the Netherlands Aerospace Centre; taking off from Amsterdam, the prototype made four different flights to different European destinations, assessing the strength of the connection between the air and the ground. Apparently, it maintained a connection to the ground even when it switched satellite beams.
A second phase of trials will kick off at the end of next year, after which the ESA hopes to use Iris on commercial flights "in a real air traffic management environment."
“ESA’s Iris programme is forging ahead as part of Europe's long-term goal to modernise air traffic control. A stepped approach and good collaboration between public and private partners is bringing excellent results,” said Magali Vaissiere, the ESA's director of telecommunications and integrated applications.
ESA and Inmarsat deploy real-time “4D” air traffic control system Reviewed by Chidinma C Amadi on 3:40 PM Rating: 5

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