Iris

Iris, element 10 of the ARTES programme, aims to make aviation safer by developing a new satellite-based air–ground communication system for Air Traffic Management (ATM).

Currently, aircraft are tracked by radar when over land and in coastal areas, and flight paths are negotiated by radio. However, once an aircraft heads out over the ocean ATM is no longer possible until it reenters continental airspace. This means that flight paths are difficult to adjust in response to adverse weather and other factors, and wide buffers must be maintained between aircraft flying in a given oceanic corridor.

The Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) programme promises to boost efficiency, capacity and performance of ATM worldwide. Iris will provide the satcoms technology for this programme.

Modernisation on this scale demands a stepped approach, so Iris has been divided into two phases: ‘Iris Precursor’ for the short to medium term, which will evolve into the full Iris service, supporting the long-term objectives of SESAR.

A milestone was passed on 26 November 2014 with the signing of a contract worth €15 million for the Iris Precursor public–private partnership between ESA and UK satellite operator Inmarsat.

By 2018, Iris Precursor will provide air–ground communications for initial ‘4D’ flight path control, pinpointing an aircraft in four dimensions: latitude, longitude, altitude and time. This will enable precise tracking of flights and more efficient management of traffic.

High-capacity digital data links via satellite carrying this information to cockpit crews in continental and oceanic airspace are expected to become the norm, with voice communications used only for specific operations.

While the initial focus will be on Europe, the capabilities developed will open opportunities for deployment in North America, Asia Pacific and other regions, where the growth of air traffic is placing a strain on ground-based networks.

By 2028, Iris will enable full 4D trajectory management over airspaces across the globe and the data link will be the primary means of communications between controllers and cockpit crews.

Last update: 28 November 2014

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