British engineers have demonstrated the use of Ka-band satellite communications (Satcom) to transfer large amounts of data between unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), BAE Systems said Tuesday.
[Taranis, a prototype unmanned combat aircraft developed by BAE Systems was unveiled in 2011. Photo, courtesy of BAE Systems.]
As aviation authorities in the U.S. and Europe prepare to integrate more unmanned aircraft into civil airspace, they need to be able to securely and rapidly transfer large amounts of data during missions. Satellite communications networks have become increasingly more congested, making it difficult to find enough spectrum for unmanned aircraft to securely operate on.
To address this issue, engineers from BAE Systems, space systems provider Astrium and satellite provider Avanti Communications have been collaborating over the past two years to develop a method for using Ka-band satellite communications to transfer data between unmanned aircraft.
Ka-band is a fast and rarely used satellite network that enables greater volumes of traffic to be transmitted compared to C-band and Ku-band. Over the next decade, demand for Ka-band satellite capacity is expected to keep growing, according to NewSat, a satellite communications company based in Australia.
During a recent trial at Astrium's manufacturing facility in Poynton, Cheshire, the team connected a BAE Systems UAS mission system and ground control station to the Astrium Air Patrol Ka-band satellite communications system, which was in turn absorbed by an Astrium-built communication platform, BAE said.
In an effort to replicate a moving unmanned aircraft, the mission system was bolted down to a moving platform and the systems were tested as if they were on an aircraft flying a real mission.
According to BAE Systems, the team transferred mission system software over the satellite network completing four “hops” from the testing facility in Cheshire, to the satellite and from the satellite to the Goonhilly Downs station in Cornwall and back again.
"Transferring data in this way offers distinct advantages especially for UAVs which need to quickly and securely transfer large amounts of data during mission phases," said John Airey, of the Future Combat Air Systems business.
“This latest trial proved our software and hardware can operate over such an advanced satellite communications link without presenting any major integration problems.
“As UAV technology becomes more complex and the demand for these kind of connections greater; it will be those businesses at the forefront of this technology which will prosper,” said Airey.