Harris, Ligado partnership assists with small UAS BVLOS flights

By Patrick C. Miller | May 11, 2017

Harris Corp. and the Ligado Networks have formed a collaborative partnership aimed at advancing beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) navigation for small unamanned aircraft systems (UAS). 

Tamara Casey, chief technology officer for Ligado Networks, said the company’s satellite network will be used to provide BVLOS UAS navigation because it offers capabilities well suited to small UAS.

“The attributes of the satellite network that make it unique for this opportunity are that it operates in the mid-band spectrum,” she said. “This spectrum is really robust in terms of its performance and coverage.”

The satellite is equipped with an onboard power supply and also carries a 22-meter mesh reflector-based antenna built by Harris. Casey said it’s the largest antenna on a commercial spacecraft in North America and currently serves the aviation industry.

“What that extremely large antenna allows us to do is make sure we can talk to much smaller devices,” Casey explained. “We are able to support very small, very lightweight devices with minimal to no external antenna on them.”

George Kirov, vice president and general manager for Harris Commercial UAS Solutions, said the collaboration with Ligado will “build upon our companies’ highly complementary capabilities to bring to the commercial UAS industry communications solutions that will be unmatched in geographical footprint, cost-efficiency, and reliability.”

In February, representatives from Harris and North Dakota announced a partnership agreement to create the first UAS network in the nation to provide a full range of aviation-grade services for safe and efficient UAS BVLOS operations. Harris is partnering with the University of North Dakota and the FAA-approved Northern Plains UAS Test Site to develop the network infrastructure system under a Research North Dakota grant awarded by the North Dakota Centers of Excellence Commission.

Casey said the capabilities of Ligado’s satellite network make it a good fit for the UAS industry and BVLOS operations.

“When we were looking at industries and opportunities where we thought we could bring a unique and really powerful solution to bear, the emerging commercial UAS opportunity was something we decided to focus on,” she said.

NOTE: This corrects an earlier UAS Magazine story which erronously reported that Ligado Networks was involved in large UAS BVLOS flights at the Grand Sky UAS Business and Aviation Park. UAS Magazine regrets the error.