| COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado, April 10
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado, April 10 Satellite
operator Iridium Communications and Harris Corp
on Wednesday said a new space-based aircraft-tracking venture
will save airlines money, but also holds promise for the U.S.
military, which is facing a sharp downturn in spending in coming
Iridium and NAV CANADA, the Canadian air navigation service,
have formed a joint venture, Aireon LLC, which will put special
sensors on all 66 new Iridium NEXT satellites to track aircraft
over oceans and other "global blind spots" beginning in 2015.
Don Thoma, president and chief executive of Aireon, told
reporters that the venture created the largest hosted payload
agreement, and would leverage investments already being made by
airlines around the world, Iridium, and the U.S. Federal
He said the new space-based tracking system would save
airlines an average of $450 in fuel costs for each transatlantic
flight by allowing them to fly more optimal routes. Aireon is
negotiating agreements to sell the new service to NAV CANADA and
other air traffic control agencies around the world.
Speaking at a space conference hosted by the Space
Foundation, Thoma said Aireon was also in active discussions
with the FAA about the new tracking capability, but the U.S.
agency was not expected to sign a contract for about 18 months.
He said Iridium decided to work with Harris on the venture
because it had used high-end sensors on satellites in low-earth
orbit, about 4.5 miles (7 km) above the earth, to collect data
for U.S. intelligence and other government agencies for 50
Bill Gattle, vice president of aerospace for Harris, said
the payload being added to the Iridium NEXT satellites still had
room for three additional plug-in sensors, which would allow the
government to carry out space-based missions for far less cost
than building and launching a dedicated satellite.
Janet Nickloy, director of aerospace mission solutions for
Harris and chair of the Hosted Payload Alliance, an industry
group, said U.S. government officials were clearly interested in
exploring such missions, especially given mounting budget
pressures. "Our energies are aligned," she said, citing a "very
collaborative" relationship with the U.S. military.
Industry executives have been promoting hosted payload deals
for years, but the U.S. government has moved toward use of
government sensors on commercial satellites only very slowly
given concerns about how to secure control over those assets,
and possible security risks.
However budget cuts may accelerate moves in this direction,
according to industry executives and government officials.
Air Force officials this week underscored the need for new
approaches to space acquisition since spending is going down.
They say such deals could help ensure continued capabilities if
existing U.S. government satellites run into problems.
They say some missions might be better suited for hosting on
commercial satellites, with extremely sensitive missile warning
and secure communications missions likely to remain wedded to
Sensors monitoring weather in space and on earth might be a
good initial use of such hosted payloads, officials say.