How STARS serves up data

Bill Voss says STARS' color display alert controllers to possible conflicting flight paths and severe weather.

(GCN Photo by Henrik G. DeGyor)

The Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System provides air traffic controllers with a single system to view air traffic and weather advisories.

Controllers use 20- by 20-inch displays from Sony Corp. with 2,000- by 2,000-pixel resolution. The displays let controllers track as many as 1,300 aircraft at one time over a 60-mile area, said Bob Meyer, business development manager for air traffic management systems at STARS contractor Raytheon Co.

STARS runs on Sun Microsystems Ultra 5 workstations with 400-MHz UltraSparc IIi processors. The system uses networking and communications equipment from Nortel Networks Corp. of Brampton, Ontario, and Sensis Corp. of DeWitt, N.Y.

Controllers use trackballs from Measurement Systems Inc. of Fairfield, Conn., for precise positioning of the cursor on the displays and specialized keyboards from Orbit International Corp. of New York. STARS software, written in C++, has a total of 1.4 million lines of code.

Meyer said controllers in El Paso, Texas, one of two airports using a full version of STARS, get data from three radar units for a comprehensive picture of the airspace.

'If one of the radars goes down, even then they will have some kind of a surveillance,' he said.

STARS is capable of handling data from up to 16 radar systems. Bill Voss, FAA's director of Terminal Business Service, said this feature helps controllers better judge the distance between aircraft.

By clicking on an aircraft icon on their displays, controllers can get details such as the airline, type of aircraft and the altitude at which it is flying.

Color displays let the controllers work in lit areas rather than the near-darkness that was necessary to see the monochrome screens in use since the 1970s.

The system also has a feature that alerts controllers with a red flash of a conflict situation, such as when aircraft are too close.

The displays also show six levels of weather intensity, differentiated by color, making it easier to identify severe weather developing, Meyer said.

STARS has a built-in backup. 'The two use different sets of software, so even when one breaks down and there is a glitch in one, the other one can go on working,' he said.

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