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Saving Lives with Integrated Satellite Communication Systems for Air Traffic Control

Civil aviation communication systems have become an operational obligation in civil aviation institutions worldwide. These systems allow the transport of essential mission critical data which enable the deployment of telecommunication services that seek to ensure air safety and therefore the safety of human lives. The Civil Aviation Authority of Colombia – “Aerocivil” has the obligation to maintain the control and surveillance of the Colombian territory airspace within the established parameters of the operational security, fundamental to each airport. However, Aerocivil ran into a particular challenge when it came to the development of its telecommunications infrastructure as several airports in their network could not get the benefits from terrestrial means of communication such as fiber optics or microwaves due to geographical location.

Satellite technology was selected as the most optimal solution in this situation. Satellites provide safe, secure and reliable connectivity, due to their high capacity and high availability in situations where security and service availability are critical. Satellite data channels allow civil aviation communication services to be transported anywhere in the Colombian territory without depending on terrestrial networks or even terrestrial access in places such as the Amazonas region or San Andrés and Providencia Islands.

SpaceBridge was selected to provide an infrastructure that allows air traffic control centers and airport control towers to visualize the traffic information detected by the RADAR System and to provide aircrafts with the required airspace information during all phases of flight through ground-to-air-ground communications.

This is accomplished by means of VHF communications equipment, which additionally allows air traffic control centers and airport control towers to coordinate take-offs and landings between control centers and towers through a unique dedicated telephone system called ATS. This system allows air traffic control centers and airport control towers to receive the data and voice signals necessary for the provision of civil aviation services such as the following: radar signal, operational and corporate telephony (ATS, analog extensions – FXS/FXO), VHF (transmitting, receiving and signaling audios of VHF stations), ATN (civil aviation systems management), and surveillance sensors (ADS-B). Additionally, flight plans can be constantly updated during the flight to maintain the most ideal trajectory towards the final destination. This allows air traffic controllers to schedule landings ahead of time, maximizing airspace and airport capacity, while reducing fuel burn and carbon emissions.

Gabriel Guzman, coordinator of the Aerocivil communications and aeronautical networks group in the telecommunications department, said: “In 2014, Aerocivil renewed its infrastructure with Spacebridge, including TDM/IP technology with two HUB Discovery 100 and thirty-nine remote stations to fulfill its mission of providing air traffic control services.”

“Air traffic control grows every year, and with the agreements and commitments of Colombia in the CAR/SAM region, it is important to highlight that the Spacebridge satellite communication network meets the expectations and technical operational requirements of the entity for the transport of aeronautical services as well as air operations under operational safety conditions.”

SpaceBridge Solution Architecture and Unique Design

SpaceBridge designed an integral communications system that takes advantage of the benefits of satellite secured communication channels, allowing the integration of civil aviation services through a multiplexing and data transport system. The result is a substantial technological improvement that efficiently solves the existing problems through real time agile and secured communication means.

SpaceBridge deployed a satellite ground segment system based on a hybrid Star/Mesh topology network to interconnect Colombian airports with two air traffic control centers, one located in Bogota, and the other in the disaster recovery redundant site of Barranquilla. SpaceBridge provided two geographically redundant ASAT II HUBs VSAT systems, one in each city, each equipped with a 4.5 meter antenna operating in C-band and 1:1 redundant HPAs. 

SpaceBridge was in charge of the design, integration, installation and commissioning of the ASAT HUB VSAT Mesh/Star HUB System, including 37 airport terminals equipped with Local Terminal redundant Modems model U7400-M.

As part of the account maintenance and growth of the network. SpaceBridge provides ongoing training, consulting, maintenance, repair and after-sales service, with excellent technical and operational performance levels that have ensured continuous and stable operation of the systems and equipment that make up the satellite network.

About the Authors:

Rafael Gonzalez

Rafael Gonzalez has extensive experience in satellite networks and electronic engineering with an emphasis on telecommunications and he holds a diploma in technical management and financial analysis projects in telecommunications. Gonzalez has over 17 years of experience in the satellite market. During six of them, he managed aeronautical projects, at the level of design, implementation and operation of satellite ATC services.

Nelson De Abreu

Nelson De Abreu has a professional career spanning more than 25 years in the satellite industry holding positions in all key business areas. He began with field experience, then as a NOC Director, LATAM Presales Manager, LATAM Sales Manager and now as Program Manager at SpaceBridge Inc. De Abreu holds a degree in Electronic Engineering from the Simón Bolívar University of Venezuela.

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