Autonomous flight technology developer Reliable Robotics has partnered with the satellite communications (satcom) provider Inmarsat to help integrate remotely piloted aircraft into the U.S. National Airspace System with a satcom solution specifically designed for uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS).
Reliable Robotics, which is based in Mountain View, California, is developing an autonomous flight system to be installed on existing aircraft to make them capable of remotely piloted operations. The company aims to obtain its first supplemental type certificate, covering the conversion of Cessna Grand Caravan utility aircraft, in the second half of this year. It also holds a Part 135 commercial air carrier certificate and has been testing its autonomous flight technology on cargo flights with pilots on board.
Inmarsat, a 44-year-old British satellite communications company, will work with Reliable Robotics to integrate its remotely piloted aircraft into the National Airspace System using the Velaris connectivity service, which Inmarsat recently developed specifically for beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) operations using uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs).
Velaris provides connectivity between remote pilots, aircraft, and air traffic controllers through voice and digital communication links. Powered by Inmarsat’s Elera L-band satellite network, Velaris provides a secure command-and-control link to seamlessly connect pilots on the ground with their remote aircraft fleet. The service requires a small satellite terminal to be installed on the aircraft.
Inmarsat and Reliable Robotics hope that relying on existing and certified airframes and satellite networks will enable them to accelerate the introduction of self-piloted aircraft, bringing the technology to market more quickly and without the need for costly new infrastructure. This technology could also expand the operational range of UAS, or the maximum allowable distance between a remote pilot and the aircraft they’re operating.
“Secure and consistent transmission of digital commands, telemetry, and voice data is critical to remote aircraft operation, where availability and integrity of the link are essential to the overall performance,” said Joel Klooster, Inmarsat’s senior vice president of aircraft operations and safety.
“We greatly appreciate the time and resources Inmarsat has devoted to tailoring a global satellite communications solution to our technical, certification, and commercial needs,” said Reliable Robotics chief business officer Myles Goeller. “It is exciting to work with Inmarsat to deploy a robust satcom system that will support the scaling of remotely operated aircraft and allow us to fly almost anywhere.”