New satellite network designed to make it impossible for airplanes to go missing

New satellite network designed to make it impossible for airplanes to go missing
© Getty Images

A new satellite network that was officially launched last week is meant to make it impossible for commercial airplanes to go missing, according to a new CBS report.

A SpaceX rocket last week delivered 10 satellites into orbit, the final part of an effort by Iridium Communications Inc. to replace its 66 old communication satellites with a new generation of technology, CBS reported. 


The new Iridium Communications satellites will have improved airplane-tracking abilities, which could reduce the number of flights that vanish per year. 

The replacement satellites will be able to communicate with GPS transponders, which must be installed in all U.S. and European planes by 2020, according to CBS.

"Seventy percent of the world's airspace has no surveillance," Don Thoma, the CEO of global air traffic surveillance company Aireon, told CBS. 

The Iridium satellites contain an Aireon system that was built to surveil all airplanes on the globe, according to ABC.

"Aircraft fly over the oceans and report back their positions to air traffic control every 10 to 15 minutes at best and in between those periods, no one knows where they are," Thoma said.  

Iridium spent $3 billion on the project to replace their old satellites over eight launches in two years, according to ABC. There will now be 75 satellites orbiting. 

"It's kind of like changing a tire on a bus going 17,000 miles per hour," Walt Everetts, vice president of satellite operations for Iridium, told CBS. "With these new satellites that we're putting up, we have more capacity, more processing capability, more memory … so we are taking an old flip phone and upgrading it into a smartphone."

The network of satellites, which is 485 miles above land, has already started tracking planes, CBS reported.

"Today we passed a major milestone on our journey to revolutionize air traffic surveillance and are just weeks away from a fully operational system," Thoma said in a statement. "Now that the launches are complete, final integration and testing of the recently launched payloads can commence, after which the world's first, real-time, truly global view of air traffic will be a reality."

The first set of Iridium satellites went up in the 1990s, offering communication services to customers with Iridium phones and pagers, according to ABC.