Solutions to support unmanned aircraft and autonomous, heavy-lift rotary platforms–for military applications and more
Aircraft design and mission objectives dictate the requirements of any mobile SATCOM system. One prevailing challenge for military operations is Beyond-Line-of-Sight (BLoS) communications. Airborne platforms can leverage local line-of-sight BLoS Airborne SATCOM Systems microwave links where infrastructure is available, but when it’s not, or when it’s blocked by mountains or buildings, SATCOM plays a critical role in connecting aircraft. Small, lightweight BLoS satellite systems are imperative in these scenarios.
Meeting Demands for Group 3 UAS
Recently, a full-service provider for Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), selected Hughes to integrate BLoS SATCOM systems into its Group 3 UAS. Group 3 UAS are smaller and lighter than more well-known Group 4 UAS and are gaining in popularity due to their inherent ability to perform extended in-flight operations ranging from 8 to 12+ hours. This aircraft was designed for Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) without a runway, offering new options for operating in challenging conditions, including maritime operations.
What makes Group 3 UAS ideal in unpredictable conditions is what also makes it difficult to deliver airborne communications. First, its smaller size presents a challenge by requiring extremely small and lightweight hardware to prevent weighing down the aircraft. Using heavier equipment can limit operational flight time because of more frequent refueling. The second challenge is that the rotor blades on vertical lift aircraft can disrupt the satellite signal and require complex waveform enhancements to maintain the transmission.
Hughes was selected to deliver and support a SATCOM solution for real-time communications capabilities, data transfers and multiple protocols. Hughes will integrate small and lightweight modular system components to help minimize any impact to the aircraft’s flight abilities. Combined, the modular technologies create a low-SWaP system, which is mission-critical to maximizing operational flight times for national security and military applications.
“Hughes has been selected to integrate small, lightweight SATCOM systems for the emerging, smaller Group 3 UAS based on the team’s expertise in supporting various airborne platforms,” said Tim Doyle, senior products director of HM Systems at Hughes. “Our engineers continue to deliver innovative aeronautical SATCOM systems, including enhanced terminal and network configurations for reliable Beyond-Line-of-Sight communications.”
BLoS Solutions—Not Just for Military Applications
Military operations are not the only ones that demand BLoS solutions. For a new customer in the aviation and aeronautics research field, Hughes will deliver the HeloSat™ solution to provide enhanced BLoS for their autonomous, heavy-lift rotary platform, a converted UH-1H helicopter. A lightweight and powerful SATCOM system, HeloSat leverages a Hughes-patented waveform technology for through-the-blades transmissions on rotary-wing aircraft. Using the softwaredefinable HM Series modems will deliver high-throughput data rates to enable live video streaming from the aircraft. The Hughes solution was selected to improve situational awareness for the aircraft operators working on various missions, which could include oil rig supply, airborne medical transport, firefighting, disaster recovery and military applications.
Initial tests for this platform were conducted during a military program in 2017. This testing, as well as a more recent milestone resupplying cargo to Marines in an integrated training exercise in California, showcased the completely autonomous capability of the UH-1H for missions in operational environments. To ensure delivery of more precise and accurate situational awareness, Hughes will deliver its HeloSat system for a constant and reliable live stream of HD video and other critical real-time data from the helicopter.
“Hughes innovative HeloSat System gives rotary aircraft critical, high-datarate connectivity through the blades so the aircraft can maintain communications beyond-line-of-sight for data-intensive requirements,” said Wayne Marhefka, senior director of business development at Hughes Defense and Intelligence Systems Division. “Based on the advanced terminal and waveform technology, HeloSat can quickly deliver HD video off the aircraft for autonomous operations, even in complex environments like offshore oil rigs and disaster recovery areas.”
The Hughes HeloSat solution for this platform consists of the ruggedized, multi-band HM200 modem paired with a lightweight GetSat satellite antenna. The modular open system architecture will meet BLoS connectivity requirements for the autonomous UH-1H aircraft to reach stations needing logistics support anywhere in the world.