Satellite communications datalink

Helping meet the current and future aviation communication needs

Satellite communications (SATCOM) are already today an important component of aeronautical communications, in particular for the oceanic airspace. In the future, SATCOM is expected to be equally important also for the continental airspace and become an integral part in the Future Communications Infrastructure (FCI). In addition, evolving satellite constellations provide new SATCOM systems offering new capabilities to meet the current and future aviation communication needs.

SATCOM illustration 1

The SATCOM systems can be classified in three categories defined by ICAO, representing different generations and with increasingly stringent performance requirements:

  • Performance Class C SATCOM systems: SATCOM systems already operational and compliant with the current SATCOM SARPs, such as INMARSAT Classic Aero and SB Safety, and Iridium.
  • Performance Class B SATCOM systems: SATCOM systems (next generation of Class C systems) that will support the Baseline 2 ATS requirements, such as INMARSAT SwiftBroadband/Iris and Iridium NEXT constellation (Iridium Certus service) expected to offer AMS® services.
  • Performance Class A SATCOM systems: Future SATCOM systems that will be augmenting the current Class B systems. These new SATCOM systems will meet the future aviation performance requirements (referred to as Baseline 3, B3, ATS requirements). ICAO considers the long timeframe needed for the deployment and fielding of new systems, and the advance design time that is needed for the SATCOM systems in particular.

In the FCI context, SATCOM, together with the terrestrial communication systems, will enable the future SATCOM concepts supporting IPS communications and Performance Class A, which are being developed in the context of the SESAR, NextGen and CARATS ATM modernisation programmes. The focus in SESAR is primary on safety of life communications and also in Airline Operational Control (AOC) SATCOM communications, as both are allowed to operate in the same frequency bands under the AMS(R)S ITU frequency allocation.

Our role

At EUROCONTROL, we support the technical, operational and standardisation activities in SESAR2020 Wave 2 PJ.14 Solution 107 “Future Satellite Communications Datalink”. In particular, EUROCONTROL is an active contributor to ICAO Working Groups in the update of the SATCOM standards (SARPs and Manual) to include provisions for the future SATCOM systems, meeting SATCOM Performance Class B and in the future SATCOM Performance Class A systems supporting ATS Baseline 2 (B2) and B3 service requirements. EUROCONTROL is also a participant in EUROCAE WG-82 activities aiming to develop ATN/IPS and Voice over IP capability for future SATCOM.

In addition, EUROCONTROL is a key player in the coordination with the ESA Iris programme, which aims at validating a satellite-based air traffic services datalink using SATCOM Class B and paving the way for evolution to Class A. Iris takes advantage of IP-based broadband to provide secure and high-bandwidth cockpit communications for exchanging flight information and trajectory data with the ground for oceanic as well as continental communications.