Dec 10, 2019

Tracking planes from orbit

Miriam Kramer, author of Space

Ocean water from orbit. Photo: NASA

A new satellite launched to orbit last week will track planes traversing Earth’s oceans from space.

Why it matters: Experts have said that a space-based aircraft tracking system could make flights safer, on time and more fuel efficient.

How it works: The satellite — called TRSI Sat and developed by MyRadar — will be able to track aircraft even when they’re out over the oceans, far from the ground tracking stations that are typically used for this kind of work.

  • The tiny satellite is designed to pick up pings from aircraft as they fly, relaying them back to Earth and allowing people on the ground to see where aircraft are when they're within range of the satellite.
  • While this kind of satellite-based tracking has been done before, the creators of the new satellite say it cost less than $1,000 to build, and its instrumentation could be deployed on other satellites, potentially leading to global coverage.
  • “It is our intention to build the tracking sensors into our future weather-based imaging satellites,” Andy Green, CEO of MyRadar, told Axios via email.

Background: The satellite was launched by a Rocket Lab Electron rocket on the company’s 10th mission last week.

  • The rocket carried six other satellites to orbit, including a Japanese payload designed to create an artificial meteor shower.
  • Rocket Lab also tested a guided re-entry of the first stage of its rocket in order to prove out the system’s reusability in the future.

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