ITT Exelis has been awarded a contract to provide a crucial link in the Aireon space-based automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) network that is being developed to allow surveillance coverage of remote airspace.

Under the $42 million contract, Exelis will provide the ADS-B data processing and distribution component for the Aireon network. Aireon is a joint venture between Iridium Communications and Nav Canada, and will rely on a constellation of satellites rather than traditional ground-based ADS-B stations. This means it will provide coverage in oceanic airspace beyond the range of ground stations.

As well as designing and building the data processing and distribution platform, Exelis will operate and maintain the system for 15 years after its launch. The company already has an agreement with Aireon, covering the provision of systems engineering services.

Exelis is also involved in one of the world’s largest ADS-B projects, as the lead contractor for the FAA’s ADS-B program. Under that contract, Exelis is deploying a ground-based ADS-B network that it will also operate for the agency.

The Aireon business model envisages air navigation service providers (ANSP) contracting for ADS-B service, and Exelis will have a core role in this. “Exelis will reliably distribute the ADS-B data to multiple air traffic control facilities of any ANSP worldwide that is interested in purchasing surveillance data subscription services from Aireon,” says Exelis in a statement.

“Through this contract, Exelis will ensure that Aireon’s service seamlessly integrates with and extends existing ground-based services, setting a foundational building block for a globally harmonized space-based air traffic management system.”

The Aireon system is expected to be operational in 2017. Nav Canada is the main customer so far, and intends to use it to provide coverage across the North Atlantic airspace that it is responsible for. Other ANSPs are believed to be interested in the service.

Aireon will not render ground-based ADS-B networks obsolete, because it is not regarded as suitable for the volume of traffic in complex domestic airspace.