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Newly Deployed Satellite System Will Track All Planes In Real Time

A satellite system completed this month will be able to track all planes in the future, its makers have said.

The newly deployed network would allow all planes to be tracked in real time and give air traffic controllers visualisations of where they are at all times. 

The system, once live, could put an end to tragic aviation mysteries like the missing flight MH370, which vanished in March 2014 with 239 people on board.

The latest project, known as Iridium NEXT, launched the last 10 of its satellites into space last Friday using a Space X Falcon 9 rocket.

A web of 75 satellites are now orbiting around the Earth and could be tracking all planes in real time by 2020.

The system will a give air traffic controllers and airlines real-time visibility of aircraft around the entire planet for the first time ever.

The US company Iridium has called the network ‘the only communications network with pole-to-pole coverage of the entire planet’.

The official statement from Iridium described it as ‘six polar orbiting planes, each containing 11 crosslinked satellites totaling 66 in the operational constellation, creating a web of coverage around the Earth’.

Currently, planes are tracked by radar via a ground system of air traffic control that relies on a transmission from the black box in the cockpit sent every 10 to 15 minutes.

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In the case of Malaysian flight MH370, the black box has never been recovered, partly because no one is sure where the plane went down.

The Asian aircraft’s case is not uncommon.

According to CEO Don Thomas of Aireon, the air traffic surveillance company that belongs to Iridium, seventy percent of the world’s airspace has no surveillance.

‘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’, Mr Thomas told CBS.

Whats more, plane tracking is also limited to parts of the planet.

The system is forecast to be fully operational by 2020 by which time all planes could be visualised in real time.

Last week it was confirmed that all 10 satellites have successfully communicated with the Iridium Satellite Network Operations Center and will undergo on-orbit testing.

The £2.5 billion network been deployed over the last two years through eight rocket launches putting the satellites into orbit.

It will be replace an older configuration of satellites and provide a number of services that include highly mobile internet access as well as the aircraft surveillance system.

Iridium CEO Matt Desch said: “With the Iridium-Aireon system, every airplane is in reach of an air traffic controller … so no matter what happened to that airplane we would know within seconds of where that airplane was.”

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The search for the doomed aircraft MH370 was called off in September 2017.

 All passengers on board are presumed dead.


In the decades since humanity first launched satellites to orbit, there have only been four known collisions between two such objects in space.

But, experts say satellite crashes will become more common in the future.

The first occured in 1991, when Russia’s Cosmos 1934 was hit by a piece of Cosmos 926, according to ESA.

Five years later, France’s Cerise satellite was struck by a piece of an Ariane 4 rocket.

Then, in 2005, US upper stage was hit by a piece of a Chinese rocket’s third stage. In 2009 an Iridium satellite slammed into Russia’s Cosmos-2251.


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