Low-Earth orbit satellite constellation for ADS-B based in-flight aircraft tracking

Thien H. Nguyen*, Naomi Tsafnat, Ediz Cetin, Barnaby Osborne, Thomas F. Dixon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B) is quickly being adopted by aviation safety authorities around the world as the standard for aircraft tracking. The technology provides the opportunity for live tracking of aircraft positions within range of an ADS-B receiver stations. Currently these receiver stations are bound by land and local infrastructural constraints. As such there is little to no coverage over oceans and poles, over which many commercial flights routinely travel. A low cost space based ADS-B receiving system is proposed as a constellation of small satellites. The possibility for a link between aircraft and satellite is dependent primarily on proximity. Calculating the likelihood of a link between two moving targets when considering with the non-periodic and non-uniform nature of actual aircraft flight-paths is nontrivial. This analysis of the link likelihood and the performance of the tracking ability of the satellite constellation has been carried out by a direct simulation of satellites and aircraft. Parameters defining the constellation (satellite numbers, orbit size and shape, orbit configuration) were varied between reasonable limits. The recent MH370 disappearance was simulated and potential tracking and coverage was analysed using an example constellation. The trend of more satellites at a higher altitude inclined at 60 degrees was found to be the optimal solution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-108
Number of pages14
JournalAdvances in Aircraft and Spacecraft Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Aircraft tracking
  • Low-earth orbit
  • MH370
  • Satellite constellation


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