Using innovative satellite, 5G system, sUAS goes BVLOS in Va

By Luke Geiver | April 13, 2017

Credit a one-of-a-kind satellite system that utilizes a 22-meter reflector-based antenna for the successful test flight of a small unmanned aircraft system that flew more than 12 miles beyond visual line of sight in Virginia this week. In Buckingham County, Virginia, an AeroVironment Puma AE was flown to inspect high voltage power lines owned by Dominion Virginia. The sUAS used the SkyTerra1 satellite system designed, owned and operated by Ligado Networks. The satellite system allows for connectivity between systems with encrypted communications. 

“Ligado is planning to deploy an advanced satellite-terrestrial network that will offer unprecedented performance for emerging 5G and IIot (Internet of Things) markets,” said Tamara Casey, Ligado’s chief technology officer. “Commercial unmanned systems are well-positioned to use our technology to serve core industries,” Casey said, adding, “Assurance of this kind of continued mission-critical connectivy will unlock all the possibilities enabled by beyond visual line-of-sight capabilities for our country while also ensuring that U.S. airspace remains the world’s safest as unmanned systems are integrated.” 

The satellite-based connection network employs ground-based beamforming for targeted bandwidth resource allocations which can help provide stronger mobile connections and greater flexibility in managing a network. According to Ligado, although mobile networks will eventually implement 5G technology, various next-generation uses cases in the IoT market can be realized using unencumbered greenfield communication spectrum. Ligado is working to provide access to mid-band spectrum—the frequencies between 1,500 MHz and 1,700 MHz—while still protecting existing users. “Mid-band spectrum represents a prime greenfield opportunity to meet the needs of these advanced networks and enable emerging 5G use cases by delivering pervasive, highly secure and ultra-reliable connectivity,” the company said. 

Ligado’s communication and satellite services are sold on a wholesale basis and not offered directly to end-users which means the company can provide competitive offerings with no channel conflict. 

Kirk Flittie, vice president and general manager of AE’s UAS business segment, said the ability of public and private stakeholders to see the Puma AE in action using Ligado’s network will help everyone “visualize a future in which unmanned aircraft systems can help increase productivity, reduce costs, enhance responsiveness and create good, new jobs in Virginia and across the nation.” 

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said that the flights performed BVLOS over Dominion Virginia’s power lines demonstrate that when expert researchers and innovative companies come together, “we can break new ground.”