Europeans demonstrate that unmanned systems can be inserted into civil space using satellite communications

A consortium of European companies and government agencies are demonstrating that remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) can share the sky with conventional aircraft thanks to the transmission of its command and control communications via satellite. A successful trial took place last week at the San Javier Air Base in Murcia, Spain, reports Spanish company Indra, which is the prime contractor for a project named DeSIRE (Demonstration of Satellites enabling the Insertion of RPAS in Europe).

DeSIRE is funded by the European Space Agency and the European Defence Agency. The other members of the industrial consortium are AT-One (Germany and the Netherlands), SES ASTRA (Luxembourg), Thales Alenia Space (Italy and France) and CIRA (Italy).

An Indra press release described the demonstration: “After takeoff, the (unmanned) aircraft switched from its line-of-sight data link to its satellite data link capable of operating beyond line of sight, and started its operational mission in segregated airspace, sending to the ground by means of the satellite data link the signals from its onboard sensors.

“The RPA then climbed to 20,000 feet, entering airspace class C managed by AENA, the Spanish Air Navigation Service Provider from Barcelona Control Center. The pilot of the RPA, located at the ground control station, followed all the indications issued by the AENA air traffic controllers, acting like any other civil or military aircraft. The difference is that the pilot was not on board and the radio communication with the control center was transmitted from the aircraft to the operator via satellite.”

According to Indra, a manned aircraft from the Air Force Academy approached the RPA, simulating frontal and 90º collision trajectories. “The pilots of the two aircraft followed the separation instructions issued by the air traffic controllers, demonstrating the safe operation of remotely piloted aircraft even in an emergency situation such as the separation of two aircrafts on a collision course.”

The aim was to define and test the air traffic control and operation procedures applicable to a remotely piloted aircraft, and to evaluate the safety of the satellite link and the reaction capacity of the aircraft's ground pilot, both in routine operation and in emergency situations.

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