SpaceX is usually set to launch 10 Iridium satellites on Friday, marking a halfway point in a contract to deliver 75 satellites to low-earth orbit for the satellite communications provider. When completed, This kind of “constellation” of low-earth-orbit satellites could revolutionize air traffic control, allowing planes to fly shorter as well as more direct routes.
The key is usually a system called Aireon, which will launch aboard every satellite. The system will be able to track airplanes anywhere on the planet, Iridium CEO Matt Desch told CNBC before the launch.
Today, airliners can fly direct routes, such as coming from Little Rock to Chicago, when they are overland. although once a jet heads more than 100 to 150 miles offshore, the idea enters procedural airspace, where air traffic controllers must rely on a pilot to relay an aircraft’s position every 10 minutes.
An example is usually a flight coming from brand-new York’s Kennedy airport down to the Caribbean. If the idea runs into bad weather in North Carolina, the pilot could head out to sea to get around the storm. However, air traffic controllers might not approve a a route like which because then they lose sight of the aircraft.
“Aireon means airlines can fly more direct routes, which could reduce both the cost as well as time of air travel,” Desch said. “Aireon makes the whole planet visible to air traffic controllers.”
Desch says the Federal Aviation Administration has been testing the service under its NextGen program, although hasn’t made a final decision. “We’ll probably hear a decision in 2018, putting things on track to implement in 2020 or so,” Desch said.
The FAA did not respond to CNBC requests for comment.
Beyond adding next generation tracking capabilities, Desch noted which Aireon’s hardware takes up none of Iridium’s communication capacity. The Aireon payload piggybacks onboard the Iridium satellites, listening on a different frequency than the Iridium broadband.
The Aireon system is usually only part of what Iridium hopes to achieve. The satellites will be focused on expanding Iridium’s satellite communications service coming from around 900,000 devices to up to 10 million devices.
“Our networks provide a safety umbrella of coverage around the planet, over 100 percent of the Earth,” Desch added. “Consumers may not care what happens on the North Pole or from the middle of the ocean, although countries as well as companies can depend upon which service.”
The Iridium-4 mission will launch on a reused SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket coming from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base on Friday evening. The launch, which was delayed coming from its original target date in October, will use the booster which landed after sending up the Iridium-2 mission in June. This kind of time, however, SpaceX will not attempt to land or recover the Falcon9’s first stage.
This kind of will be the 18th launch for Elon Musk’s space company This kind of year, the first in history which commercial launches will outpace government-sponsored ones.
Watch the mission live at 8:27 p.m. ET.