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When Malaysia Air Flight 370 disappeared somewhere over the Indian Ocean in 2014, it had flown far beyond radar range. Under a new space-based air tracking system, no plane would ever be off the grid that way — and it is possible thanks in part to a collaboration with NASA, starting with a reconfigurable radio NASA uses to communicate with its satellites, rovers, and astronauts.

Harris Corporation developed a software defined radio (SDR) from the NASA technology that will be used on Iridium satellites. The SDRs will receive signals from ADS-B airplane transceivers that automatically send out the flight number, location, heading, and other details of every flight in the air within seconds. With real-time global tracking, airlines will be able to optimize their air traffic control patterns, saving fuel and providing detailed information on where to look for missing aircraft.

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