UAV airspace access a step closer thanks to Inmarsat’s latest tech signing


Inmarsat and the European Space Agency (ESA) today announced the development of a compact satellite terminal for Uncrewed Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) as part of the ground-breaking Iris air traffic modernisation programme: paving the way for UAVs to be safely integrated into commercial airspace.

TTP will deliver the core technology for a low size, weight, power and cost (SWaP-C) terminal with an integrated antenna. The advanced terminal, available later this year, will be suitable for almost all UAVs, providing a secure and always-available datalink between uncrewed vehicles, remote operators and air traffic control.

The miniaturised Inmarsat terminal brings scalable Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations and will unlock a range of possibilities for flight operators such as telemetry for platform health monitoring, IP voice relay for air traffic control communications, and data services such as video streaming for inspection applications. Optional hybrid connectivity will also be integrated within the terminal and can be utilised where cellular coverage is available, ensuring a seamless experience through the intelligent routing of data and services.

As part of Iris, TTP is also contracted for research and development of UAV safety services, for example last mile tactical deconfliction, known as detect and avoid (DAA). This, alongside the new UAV satcom terminal and technology from other Iris partners, will help deliver all elements needed for UAVs to safely operate in commercial airspace.

Anthony Spouncer, Inmarsat’s Senior Director of Advanced Air Mobility (AAM), said “The number of uncrewed vehicles in mixed airspace is expected to increase tenfold over the next 8-10 years. Through the expertise of TTP, Inmarsat’s new UAV terminal will bring a solution that is scalable, less dependent on infrastructure, and digitalised to benefit air traffic modernisation programmes like Iris.”

Tristan Barkley, TTP’s Head of Satellite and Space said “We have a long history of developing core enabling technology platforms for world-leading companies like Inmarsat and are delighted to support Inmarsat and ESA in safely opening up airspace for UAVs.” 

Powered by Inmarsat’s award-winning SwiftBroadband-Safety (SB-S) connectivity platform, Iris enables real-time collaboration between pilots, air traffic controllers and airline operation centres by using cost-effective, secure and highly resilient datalink communications. This relieves pressure on congested Very High Frequency (VHF) links and enabling the use of time-based air traffic management which provides significant benefits like reduced flight delays and costs for airlines. This also lowers unnecessary CO2 emissions to support the aviation industry’s journey towards decarbonisation and less congested skies.

Iris supports the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) programme and will begin flying onboard commercial flights with easyJet in early 2023, making it the first communication service benefiting from a Pan-European certification from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), secured through the programme’s partner European Satellite Services Provider (ESSP). This will be followed by Iris Global, which extends the programme’s benefits far beyond Europe, leading to larger CO2 reductions and improved airspace capacity across the world.