The Ka band or “satellite super-highway”—a fast, uncongested and rarely used satellite network—has been opened up by a team of engineers to support UK unmanned aircraft missions in the future.
The team of engineers includes some of BAE’s very own. The effective use of satellite communication systems is essential to help facilitate the safe and routine flying of unmanned aircraft in airspace, which we are helping to pioneer. Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAV) need to be able to transfer large amounts of data quickly and securely during missions.
In a UK-first, experts working at Future Combat Air Systems business, in partnership with engineers from aerospace company Astrium, have found a way to use a “communications corridor” within the Ka-band to send large amounts of data into space. To test the “corridor,” the team connected the latest UAV Mission System and associated Unmanned Air System Control Station to the EADS Astrium Air Patrol Ka-band Satellite Communications System, which was, in turn, bolted down to a moving platform supplied by Astrium termed the ‘Rocking Bed’ to allow mission system software to communicate over the satellite link.
Although the ‘Rocking Bed’ never actually left the ground it was able to replicate the profile of an unmanned aircraft allowing the systems to be tested as if they were on-board a UAV flying a real mission. The data was able to complete four ‘hops’ from the testing facility in Poynton, Cheshire, to the satellite and from the satellite to Goonhilly Downs station in Cornwall and back again—a distance of 144,000km—more than a third of the distance from the Earth to the moon. By hitching a ride on the new satellite super-highway, data can bypass the already-congested satellite pathways which are crowded with data generated by non-military sources including numerous TV stations.