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ESA Open Invitation to Tender: 1-11343
Open Date: 10/08/2022 11:05 CEST
Closing Date: 10/10/2022 13:00 CEST

Despite a steady increase in orders for helicopters, and an almost exponential growth in the number of rotary wing UAVs worldwide, outside of military and defence applications, the utilisation of satellite connectivity onboard such rotary wing aircraft is still somewhat limited. This is due in part to the narrow range of technical options currently available, as well as the limited data rate capability of the connectivity options that do exist. In some use scenarios, the limited data rates available constrain the range ofcommunications services that can be supported, and operators subsequently default to line-of-sight terrestrial communication solutions. Such constraints are often encountered during responses to natural disasters for example. During such campaigns, first responders and emergency crews depend on the versatile nature of helicopter and UAVs' vertical lift capability for surveying and access. However, existing communications networks are often damaged or rendered inoperable by such events and therefore ground hub infrastructure must be shipped and deployed to enable range limited line-of-sight communications. Presently, connectivity solutions for helicopters and UAVs are available in the MSS bands (L-Band) across networks such as Thuraya, Iridium and Inmarsat, but connection speeds are typically limited to below 384 Kbps. Several companies serving the United States' defence markets are now looking to leverage recent technology advances to provide more effective broadband satellite communication links. For example, Hughes Networks have utilisedGetsat's MicroSat phased array antenna technology in conjunction with their own interleaving modem waveform to create a "bolt-on" aftermarket solution (HeloSat) that operates using Ku-Band geostationary satellite capacity. Viasat have also created a similar solution, and both have achieved throughputs of around 10 Mbps during proof-of-concept flight demonstrations. Whilst Air-to-Ground networks (such as the European Aviation Network, EAN) offer promising solutions in terms of throughput (EAN achieves peak data rates of 100 Mbps) and can use small form factor antenna equipment, such networks are optimised for higher altitude (circa 3000 m) operations, and therefore suffer significant gaps in coverage at lower altitudes. (Helicopter cruising altitudes can be as low as 100 m with UAVs operating at even lower altitudes). In addition to gaps in coverage between cell tower locations, terrestrial-based networks also typically only offer "best effort" connectivity solutions and cannot provide coverage in some areas where helicopter services are critical, e.g., seas beyond coastal areas and across remote regions. In the commercial airline and business jet markets, establishing effective broadband satellite connectivity has led to the introduction of a plethora of valuable downstream data services, includingfleet operations management, route optimisation, real-time predictive analytics, and enhanced crew welfare and passenger experiences. In addition, the performance of many existing aircraft applications has been improved, such as search and rescue, disaster response, law enforcement, mapping, and surveillance. It is conceivable, should the right technical solutions emerge, that rotary-wing aircraft markets could mirror this growth trend and spawn new markets for devices, systems, and data services uniquely adapted for suchversatile aircraft. The proposed activity will therefore explore the needs, requirements, opportunities, and potential solutions for establishing effective broadband satellite communication services to rotary winged aircraft including helicopters, commercial Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs), and Urban Air Mobility (UAMs) platforms. The starting point of this study would be to research current capabilities and limitations, as well as technical and non-technical requirements, such as regulatory and aircraft-imposed constraints.Additionally, an assessment of the applicable markets, use cases, and associated future market trends will be made to establish theeconomic potential for any envisaged solutions. The activity would generate requirements for use cases across both existing and emergent connected aircraft markets such as the media, entertainment, commercial, logistics, energy, mining, construction, emergency, agricultural, law enforcement, and security sectors. Military and defence applications will be surveyed to identify applicable technology that may be adopted for civil applications. Following this initial information gathering phase, the study would investigate potential end-to-end system designs considering recent and planned developments in new networks, such as OneWeb and O3B mPower, Air to Ground networks such as Inmarsat's EAN, programmable digital geostationary satellite payloads such as Airbus' OneSat, digital beamforming capabilities, phased array antenna development, interleaving modem waveforms, and Air Interface protocols. As helicopters, rotary-wing UAVs and UAMs frequently transit into and out of the various terrestrial networks, especially in built-up urbanised areas, the activity will pay close attention to interoperability and integration with existing and planned terrestrial and air-to-ground networks. Following the identification of the most promising approach, a more detailed feasibility assessment will be performed defining achievable performance targets, simulating link level performance, and providing size, weight, power, cost, and performance assessments. The overall outcomes of the activity would therefore be an assessment of whether emerging satcom technologies could enable high bandwidth solutions to be realised for helicopter, UAV and UAM applications, and an appraisal of the positioning of participating-state industry to capitalise on the potential and to develop and capture new markets. The output of the activity will include a system technology development roadmap defining the gaps, development steps required to fill those gaps, as well as timescales and ROM costs needed to realise any proposed new approach. Should investigations prove promising, the study will outline the design and associated development and implementation roadmap for a future proof of concept demonstrator suitable for the realisation through a subsequent ARTES activity.

Estabilishment: ECSAT
ECOS Required: No
Classified: No
Price Range: 200-500 KEURO
Authorised Contact Person: Monica Mezzadri
Initiating Service: TIA-TFE
IP Measure: N/A
Prog. Reference: E/0501-01D - Future Prep 4.0.1
Tender Type: Open Competition
Technology Keywords: 12-A-I-Advanced Ground Station Design Concepts / 12-B-I-Advanced Ground Communication Networking Concepts / 12-B-II-Communication Network Technologies and Protocols
Products Keywords: 4-B-1-a-Structure & Thermal, Servo / Mechanics, Reflectors, feeds and diplexers, Antenna Control Units (ACUs), Drive Systems / 4-B-2-a-Transmitter and Receiver assemblies, Frequency converters

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