The European Space Agency (ESA) awarded a new contract on 6 March to Inmarsat, backed by EUR43 million (USD51 million) in European funding, covering the next phase of the Iris modernisation programme for a secure and high bandwidth air-ground communications capability.
Inmarsat was initially selected in 2014 to develop Iris at the head of a consortium of air navigation service providers, avionics manufacturers, and ground infrastructure suppliers, tasked with developing Iris Precursor as a forerunner to the broader Iris solution.
Iris precursor “showed us the datalink is robust enough to support safe and secure satellite data link messages”, said Inmarsat Vice-President of Safety and Operations Mary McMillan. “We completed multiple tests on real aeroplanes and conducted extensive evaluation and testing. We are looking at Initial Operating Capability this year, with flight trials starting in 2019 and services throughout Europe from 2020 onwards.”
Iris is an enabler for the SESAR modernisation programme in Europe. The satellite datalink programme is part of a multilink concept, designed to support ground-air communications as Europe prepares for higher air traffic demand.
“Iris is an integral part of the European ATM Masterplan,” said Peter Hotham, SESAR Joint Undertaking Deputy Executive Director. “In order to deliver enhanced SESAR concepts, beyond initial 4-Dimensional [i4D] trajectory-based operations, we need this datalink.
“Iris and Iris precursor deliver additional bandwidth for continental operations, in terms of complementing our ground-based VHF data link and helping to deliver performance. It is a pathway to longer-term satellite communications which will fully meet all the stringent safety, security, and performance requirements for advanced air traffic management. We need this additional capacity as we get increasingly dense operations over continental airspace.”
The work also involves close co-operation with standardisation bodies EUROCAE and ICAO, to develop global satellite communication standards that will eventually become a primary means of air traffic control communications.
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