A collaboration between Iridium and Nav Canada will see a constellation of 66 satellites in orbit by 2017, and hopefully the tracking will be operational a year after that. The system is an offshoot of an existing space-based aircraft surveillance network called Aireon; the difference here is that the emergency tracking functionality will be available for free, to authorised rescue agencies.
Even better, Aireon shouldn't require the installation of too much extra gear on airplanes themselves. It uses an existing system called ADS-B, whereby aircraft determine their position via GPS, and then broadcast that information to air-traffic controllers via ground-based radio receivers. Aireon's innovation is to put those receivers onto low-orbit satellites, thereby getting world-wide coverage, and putting an end to the black spots in traffic that have given conspiracy theorists so much room to work. [Ottawa Citizen]
Image by AP Photo/Rob Griffith