Satellite sensors to track flights in wake of MH370

By on 1 April, 2014
Proba-V satellite

Artist’s view of the Proba-V satellite.┬áImage: ESA.

 

The mysterious fate of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has thrown the spotlight on some satellite technologies that will make it easier in the future for authorities to track and communicate with aircraft over water and uninhabited areas.

The plane vanished from radar screens on March 8 with 239 people aboard. Investigators believe it most likely flew into the southern Indian Ocean.

Already, new systems are being developed by European and North American teams to allow more accurate plotting of location and flight paths. These would use satellite-based sensors rather than radars to pick up signals containing automated location and velocity data sent every second from aircraft.

Currently, information on a plane’s location can be picked up by ground-based radar, which loses coverage over oceans or remote areas, or it can be combined with optional on-board satellite communications tools that require pilot actions and that airlines, many under budget constraints, must pay for.

While automated signals giving an aircraft’s location could still be switched off, as may have happened in the Malaysian case, the new satellite sensors could still aid search and rescue efforts and help airlines save fuel.

Aireon LLC, a joint venture between U.S satellite operator Iridium, the Canadian air navigation service and three European air traffic control authorities – says it will provide a space-based global air traffic surveillance system beginning in 2018.

The German Aerospace Centre (DLR) is also working on a project with Luxembourg-based satellite firm SES and space electronics group Thales Alenia Germany, a joint venture between Thales and Finmeccanica.

The DLR is working with SES and Thales Alenia Germany and is currently gathering data from a receiver aboard the ESA Proba-V satellite, which has been in orbit since May last year.

Read the rest of this story at Reuters.

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