Skykraft delivers first space-based VHF communication for air traffic control

Artists impression of Skykraft's satellite in orbit. Image credit: Skykraft

Australian space-services company Skykraft has executed a world-first testing of space-based VHF voice communications as part of its development of satellites to provide space-based aviation communications and surveillance services. 

In a news release, the company said the trial contributes to the development of operational space-based aviation VHF services in the run-up to the World Radio Congress 2023 (WRC-23). 

Skykraft’s demonstration of space-based voice communications in the VHF aviation band shows that satellite communication with aeroplanes may be accomplished using existing technology. 

For the first time, the use of satellites instead of ground-based radio systems will permit global real-time communications between pilots and air traffic controllers, the company said. 

The tests, which were conducted in the southern region of Australia’s Flight Information Region, paved the way for Skykraft to collaborate with Airservices Australia to develop proper test protocols that ensured no interference with the operating Air Traffic Management (ATM) system.

“We are proud to have taken another step to bringing this world-first capability to market,” said Dr Michael Frater, CEO of Skykraft. 

He added, “VHF voice and data communication that covers the entire extent of an aircraft’s journey is the missing piece for Air Traffic Management and will unlock efficiency gains globally.”

Prior to the trials of space-based ATM services, the five satellites used for this trial of VHF voice services underwent six weeks of successful operational testing. 

Skykraft’s initial constellation is still in the works, with two launches currently scheduled for 2023 and more planned for 2024.

“The success of the current round of test activities is a tribute to the capabilities of the engineering team at Skykraft,” stated Mark Skidmore, chair of Skykraft.

Skidmore added, “We recognised the need to deliver these space-based ATM services to ANSPs (Air Navigation Service Providers) as soon as possible and our team of engineers, project managers and technicians has delivered.”

Skykraft said its upcoming space mission in Q2 2024 will feature a multilateration experiment to show how independent aircraft position data can be provided in the case of GNSS failure.