Innovation program explores UAS satellite communications

By Patrick C. Miller | February 27, 2019

London-based Inmarsat—an international technology developer and communications provider—has launched a grassroots innovation program to explore the role of satellite communication in the commercial unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) market.

Inmarsat’s “pop-up lab” will include two additional partners, British technology developer Cobham and international aerospace accelerator Starburst. They will team with seven drone companies to integrate satellite connectivity. The program will conduct trials with high-profile customers from the oil and gas industry, emergency relief sector and other commercial user groups.

“The market for commercial UAVs is set for explosive growth and we expect satellite will play a critical role for UAVs operating in remote areas where terrestrial networks are limited,” said Jordan Picard, digital incubation lead with the Inmarsat Product Group. “This aligns with our historical leadership in global mobile satellite communications and positions us well to enable a major growth area in the 21st-century economy.”

Cobham is the designer and manufacturer of the Aviator UAV 200 airborne satellite terminal and Explorer ground terminal systems, a UAV satellite communications system that enables beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) command and control (C2). It also provides simultaneous video streaming capability using Inmarsat’s global L-band network to assist customers with operations in remote areas or rough terrain.

The technology trials will demonstrate the value of satellite-enabled drones with use-cases such as oil rig inspection and wildfire mapping in the U.S. Participating UAS companies include RPAS Service, FlyLogix and Intrepid Minds (UK), Robot Aviation (Norway), Alpha Unmanned Systems (Spain), A-Techsyn (Ireland) and Silent Falcon (U.S.).

The outcomes of the pop-up lab will be presented at a large-scale showcase and industry event at Inmarsat’s London headquarters on May 30 this year. The event will include keynote speakers from across the sector and will serve as a forum to explore how satellite and UAS technology can benefit private sector companies and humanitarian organizations.

“While many UAV’s will rely on terrestrial based connectivity solutions, they often operate beyond-line-of-sight of point to point digital data links and out of coverage of ground networks,” said Andrew Legg, regional sales director at Cobham. “Many of these airframes are compromised by connectivity shortcomings and the addition of a high reliability, light footprint satcom solution enables a broader theater of operation and strategic value for the airframe. This is especially true for UAV’s being used by organizations operating in remote parts of the globe such as the energy sector or humanitarian aid agencies.”