Europe’s defense and space agencies are to expand their cooperation on integrating unmanned aircraft systems into civil airspace for commercial and government missions with a second phase of a project to demonstrate that UAS can be controlled via satellite communications.

The European Defense Agency (EDA) and European Space Agency (ESA) staged a demonstration in Spain in April 2013, controlling a UAS in nonsegregated airspace via satcom under the Desire (Demonstration of Satellites enabling the Insertion of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems in Europe) project.

The agencies have agreed to cooperate on a Desire II project to demonstrate that UAS flying beyond radio line-of-sight can provide services such as environmental monitoring and maritime surveillance using satellite-based command-and-control data links.

The project will also demonstrate integration of communication, navigation and Earth observation satellites with terrestrial infrastructure to enable new services. Desire II will also implement an initial set of air traffic management (ATM) elements and safety standards for UAS insertion into civil airspace.

The initial Desire project involved a multinational industrial consortium led by Spain’s Indra and including ATM consultancy AT-One, satellite operator SES Astra and manufacturer Thales Alenia Space. The demo involved flights of an Israel Aerospace Industries Heron UAS from San Javier airbase.

After taking off and before leaving segregated airspace around the base, the UAS switched from line-of-sight radio to beyond-line-of-sight satcom. The Heron then entered nonsegregated airspace managed by Spanish air navigation service provider AENA from Barcelona control center.

The UAS was flown through a series of encounters with a manned aircraft, the Heron ground operator and aircraft pilot following separation instructions from air traffic controllers. The UAS was tracked by AENA’s secondary surveillance radars and had an onboard radar to detect traffic.

While flying over the Mediterranean, the UAS downlinked real-time data from its onboard video and radar sensors and an automatic identification system payload to detect and identify ships. EDA says the Desire flights showed satcom-controlled UAS could be used for maritime surveillance.