A demonstration involved the deployment of a Heron-1 RPAS controlled by satellite for maritime surveillance applications offshore Spain. The project demonstrated the safe operation of RPAS in non-segregated airspace using satellite communications. Several partners, such as the GUCI (Spanish "Guardia Civil") and AENA (Aeropuertos Españoles y Navegación Aérea), supported the project.
The demonstration was part of the DeSIRE (Demonstration of Satellites enabling the Insertion of RPAS in Europe) initiative, an ESA-EDA (European Space Agency-European Defence Agency) project which includes European headquartered satellite operator SES, together with partners such as ThalesAleniaSpace and AT-one (an European Economic Interest Group consisting of Dutch Aerospace Laboratory NLR and German Aerospace Centre DLR). The initiative follows another ESA study (ESA SINUE) during which SES was already partnering with INDRA, the Spanish information technology and defense systems company.
There is also the problem of the the drone itself malfunctioning. What happens if its navigation systems go haywire? Or the command is misinterpreted? etc. Does the satellite intend to shoot it out of the sky, or vaporise it??
The brief note (and associated link) don't address the safety concerns that come to mind. What happens if the satellite goes dead? The drone will need considerable autonomy in such cases. Unlike a ground based vehicle which can stop in place, the drone must have a landing plan and avoid other objects in the airspace. And if the drone can manage without the satellite, then what role does the satellite play? Is it just relaying updates to the drone flight plan?
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