13 June 2013
Tracking aircraft over Great Britain
On board the European Proba-V satellite is a dedicated receiver to pick up aircraft ADS-B signals (Automatic Dependant Surveillance Broadcast). An A320 overflying Scotland was the first aircraft 'seen' from space by the DLR receiver, proving that tracking aircraft from space is possible.
Receiving ADS-B signals over Australia
Using the receiver on board the Proba-V satellite, researchers from the German Aerospace Center (DLR) were able to detect over 100 aircraft during the first pass over the British Isles, East Asia and Australia when the receiver was switched on. ADS-B signals are broadcast by aircraft every second; they include aircraft position and velocity information. The aircraft identification is transmitted as well. 'ADS-B over satellite' is a joint project of the DLR Institute of Space Systems and the DLR institute of Flight Guidance, in cooperation with the Luxembourg partner SES TechCom Services.
The European Proba-V satellite is also carrying a German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) payload. The receiver will locate the ADS–B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast) signals that flights transmit with a special antenna, while the satellite orbits Earth at an altitude of 820 kilometres.
An A320 overflying Scotland was the first aircraft 'seen' from space by a new receiver from the German Aerospace Centre (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR), proving that tracking aircraft from space is possible. The ESA Proba-V satellite has been in Earth orbit since 7 May 2013; its payload includes a dedicated receiver to pick up aircraft ADS-B signals (Automatic Dependant Surveillance Broadcast). On 23 May the experiment was switched on for the first time, recording over 12,000 ADS-B messages within two hours, at an altitude of 820 kilometres.
"Worldwide, this is the first experiment ever of this kind – and now we have evidence that this concept works," says DLR Project Manager Toni Delovski. The project team detected over 100 aircraft during the first pass over the British Isles, East Asia and Australia when the receiver was switched on. "For some aircraft, we were able to determine multiple positions over time, which allowed us to reconstruct their flight paths."
ADS-B signals are broadcast by aircraft every second; they include aircraft position and velocity information. ADS-B equipment is being introduced on aircraft as a supplementary data source to the ground-based radar currently used to monitor air traffic. The problem with radar is that its coverage is restricted. Once out of the range of terrestrial radar stations, the continuous air traffic surveillance stops. "For example, aircraft travelling from Europe to Brazil disappear from the radar over the Atlantic and will only be detected again by terrestrial radar shortly before reaching South America," explains Delovski.
There is currently no continuous air traffic surveillance by terrestrial radar over oceanic airspace or in regions with limited air traffic surveillance infrastructure. But tracking from space could close this gap. 'ADS-B over satellite' is a joint project of the DLR Institute of Space Systems and the DLR institute of Flight Guidance, in cooperation with the Luxembourg partner SES TechCom Services.
Tracking from space
DLR developed the experiment for the satellite while SES TechCom developed the data segment, with ESA providing it an early trial in space on board Proba-V. The receiver had previously been flown on a stratospheric balloon, with successful results. Additional computer modelling reassured the scientists: "But models are no substitute for actual flight experience," adds Delovski. “There are influencing variables in space which one does not know well."
From an altitude of 820 kilometres, the system has passed this practical test, returning its first results. Now, the DLR researchers will begin extensive data analysis. "We will now determine how sensitively our receiver has detected aircraft from space," says Delovski. Although the system might later be used in regions without terrestrial radar stations, it is these regions that the scientists have to rely on at the beginning – only the comparison with aircraft detected from the ground will show how well DLR's receiver is performing on board the satellite.
Which aircraft were detected? Are there regions where the receiver in space has only limited reception? What types of signals does it receive? Once the receiver's performance has been analysed, the DLR researchers will know how well the receiver is likely to perform in regions without ground stations. "This is where our space system would really come into its own," says division head Jörg Behrens. "With this tracking from a satellite, flight paths might, for example, be planned more efficiently and aircraft could fly with smaller separation distances in regions without radar surveillance."
Last modified:13/06/2013 09:52:16
13/06/2013 17:17 -
from Ahmad Mustafa
Great work done. Space technology at its best.
30/07/2013 21:56 -
from Meenakshi Varyani
I would say an excellent development in the area of aircraft-satellite communication. Perhaps cases of aircraft dissappearance over sea shall diminish in the future with better information given by the satellite about the aircraft location. This information along with weather reports could make the aircraft avoid areas of bad weather. I would also say it is a commendable development for investigation like for cases such as that of the Flight 447 crash which took about 2 years for black blox recovery.
02/10/2013 14:16 -
from R. Schmidt
The search and rescue (SAR) capability mentioned above is indeed a good point, even if todays emergency transmitters (ELTs) are already monitored by satellite. Of course we will need to wait another while until a system providing full global coverage with a network of (Iridium) satellites has become fully operational. Howewer, it has been impressively demonstrated that the principle works which is a good thing.
08/11/2013 10:32 -
from Duval laurent
Nice experience, We have try another solution and install ads-b receiver on Container ship from Europe to Asia and satelite internet feed.Nice coverage to complete ads-b ground station and no radar area.Best regardsLaurent
13/03/2014 11:25 -
from O. Laakso
Would be interesting to hear has there been any data availability from Proba-V satellite's ADS-B experiment around the moment when Malaysia flight MH370 lost. So, was the orbital position of satellite favourable for receiving any possible MODE-S signal which would'n be possible to receive from any ground based system in that specific moment.
13/03/2014 14:30 -
from Toni Delovski
Dear Mr. Laakso,after the plane was reported missing, we checked the data coming from PROBA-V. Unfortunately the satellite was not in vincinity of the respective area. We also checked if there might be a signal from MH370 in the course of the day off the regular track, but without success. It appears, for whatever reason, that the Mode S transmissions of MH370 suddenly disappeared.With best regardsT. Delovski