DeSIRE - Demonstration of Satellites enabling the Insertion of RPAS in Europe

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The DeSIRE (Demonstration of Satellites enabling the Insertion of RPAS in Europe) demonstration project is a joint ESA-EDA initiative aimed at demonstrating the safe insertion of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) in non-segregated airspace using satellites capabilities for RPAS command and control, ATC communications and Mission data transfer to ground, in order to satisfy the needs of potential user communities. The demonstration will be carried out in Spain through several flights using a RPAS (Heron 1) providing airborne maritime surveillance services to the Spanish Users involved in the project.

Objectives of the service

Several initiatives towards RPAS air traffic insertion have been fostered by ESA, EDA and other stakeholders during the last few years (e.g. ESA SINUE and EDA IDEAS feasibility studies), and a high interest from potential users and stakeholders has been maintained since the beginning of these projects. Thus, as a natural step forward, this joint ESA-EDA initiative proposes a RPAS maritime surveillance demonstration with the following objectives: Demonstrate the capability of safe insertion of RPAS in non-segregated airspace using satellites, identify issues and required procedures, and provide early inputs to regulatory bodies. Demonstrate to the potential user communities that RPAS supported by satellites and flying in non-segregated airspace can fulfil their needs.

DeSIRE System

Users and their needs

The DeSIRE demonstration project is targeting governmental and international organisations responsible for service operations, such as civil security bodies, national coast guards, border control authorities, etc.

DeSIRE is supported by a wide range of RPAS (potential) users and stakeholders from different countries (France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Spain):

  • GUCI: Spanish "Guardia Civil"
  • AENA: Spanish ANSP and airport management
  • INTA: Spanish National Institute of Aerospace Technology
  • EASA: European Aviation Safety Agency
  • EUROCONTROL - European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation
  • EUROCAE WG-73: Working Group on UAV Systems (UAS)
  • KLu: Royal Netherlands Air Force
  • Protezione Ambiente Provincia di Caserta
  • ARPAC: Agenzia Regionale Protezione Ambiente
  • Campania Capitaneria del Porto di Napoli
  • C.I.R.A. - Italian Aerospace Research Centre
  • and more ¦

Most of them have expressed their interest to participate in the consolidation of the users and mission requirements and in the review of the project results, lessons learnt and recommendations. The project is also addressing regulatory stakeholders. It foresees dissemination actions to provide relevant demonstration results and support the regulatory progress on Air traffic insertion. EASA, EUROCONTROL as well as EUROCAE WG 73 are also providing inputs in the course of the project.

Among all of these RPAS users and stakeholders, it is worth mentioning the Spanish organizations that will play a key actor role collaborating actively and supporting the planned demonstration flights:

  • Spanish Air Force (SpAF);
  • Guardia Civil (GUCI);
  • Aeropuertos Españoles y Navegación Aérea (AENA).

In 2010 ESA and EDA carried out parallel feasibility studies in close coordination, resp. SINUE and IDEAS, to assess the sustainability of UAS based services supported by satellites and inserted in non-segregated airspace. The major key findings of these studies were:

  • There is a potential for sustainable services in particular for some applications like maritime surveillance services.
  • Many users and stakeholders (in particular in the aviation regulation and safety community) are interested in a demonstration of RPAS supported by satellites. Some    users have expressed an urgent need for RPAS based services for specific applications.
  • It is feasible to demonstrate the potential of the utilization of satellites complementing RPAS already within the current regulatory framework and utilizing the currently available technologies.
  • The uptake of RPAS services is hampered by a number of factors, primarily the lack of a consolidated regulatory framework, standardised and certified technology allowing UAS to fly in non-segregated airspace.
  • Progress in the regulations will be stimulated and helped by the demonstration of safety related aspects for the Air Traffic Insertion, as well as by a clear interest from user communities.

Service/ system concept

The DeSIRE project is aimed at demonstrating maritime surveillance services using RPAS supported by satellite. The demonstration mission will be performed over south-east Spanish Mediterranean sea. The RPAS will make use of RLOS communications and BRLOS communications (i.e. by satellites) for the Command and Control of the RPA, the relay of ATC and the transfer of the payload data to the ground in near real time. Flights will take place over both segregated and civil-controlled airspaces, in order to prove the capability of safe insertion of RPAS into non-segregated airspace using satellites.

During the flights, the information captured by the payloads (i.e. maritime radar and day / night stabilised camera) will be transmitted in real time to the ground and integrated in the SIVE system (i.e. the maritime borders surveillance system operated by the Spanish Guardia Civil), in order to demonstrate to the user communities the potential added-value RPAS with satcom support can offer to them.

Space Added Value

Satellite communication systems can provide a significant added value to RPAS missions and will be a key technology for their future operation within non-segregated airspace. The capability of offering global, broadband and safe communications for BLOS operations (both for payload and safety communications) must be highlighted among all satellite services of interest for RPAS.

Satellite navigation also plays an important role for UAS. With satellite navigation the UAS can be navigated without using ground based navigation systems as reference. Payload data can also be precisely geo-referenced.

Product Benefits

One of the major hurdles the RPAS community has to face for integrating RPAS into non-segregated airspace is to ensure sufficient availability, continuity and integrity and appropriate latency for the C2/ATC data link(s) under all circumstances. In part, this has already been demonstrated for scenarios where radio line of sight communication is available between the data link ground station and the RPA. Also flights using satellite data links have been already performed, but mainly for military applications and/or for operations in segregated airspace.Therefore, experience is lacking on the overall performance of a mission combining RLOS and BRLOS conditions. Especially the suitability and benefits of space based satellite data link connections have not been investigated to such extent to supply the needed information to official bodies working on regulation and certification of RPAS for use in non-segregated airspace.

For such a scenario, DeSIRE will be a key demonstration, providing a common understanding and a harmonised approach to operational concepts, to regulators and other stakeholders on how satellite data links can support RPAS insertion in nonsegregated space.

To ensure that this objective will be achieved, EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) and EUROCONTROL are involved in the project and provide guidance.

Product Features

The DeSIRE Demonstration will represent a significant contribution to define and pave the roadmap for the future integration of RPAS into general Air Traffic Control (ATC) with the support of satellite technologies. The demonstration will use specific components such as a MALE RPAS Heron I, BRLOS (Beyond Radio Line of Sight) communication in Ku-Band, two RLOS (Radio Line of Sight) communication channels in C and VHF/UHF bands and the mission information will be integrated into a governmental border surveillance system (SIVE).

The purpose of DeSIRE is to perform demonstration flights for maritime surveillance application while analysing and testing some of the key topics related to Air Traffic Insertion of RPAS into non-segregated airspace, in particular focusing on safe and secure communications links for RPA Command and Control and ATC relay.

DeSIRE demonstration flights will be operated from San Javier airport in Murcia, south Spain, where several flights in segregated and civil controlled airspace areas will be performed. Those parts of the flights controlled by civil ATM will take place on non-segregated airspace (class C) temporary segregated via NOTAM.

Before performing any of the planned DeSIRE demonstration flights, different approvals, certificates and authorisations are needed, such as permit to flight and authorisations for the use of airspace, authorisation for the use of the radiofrequencies required for both BRLOS and RLOS, etc. Each of these authorisations will be obtained from the corresponding Spanish authorities.

IAI-Malat, is collaborating with Indra in the demonstration campaign by providing and operating a Heron-I MALE RPAS with the required capabilities. Among those capabilities, the RPA payload includes a maritime patrol radar suitable for the proposed maritime surveillance mission as well as multimission optronic stabilized payload (MOSP) for day and night video surveillance.

A comprehensive test plan will be conducted in order to characterise the overall performance of the system when radio line of sight is not available. Several tests will be conducted in segregated airspace and some of them in non-segregated airspace.

Permanent communication will be maintained with ATC through the RPA via a UHF/VHF voice relay. From the take-off phase, RPA will follow all instructions in a same way as any manned aircraft up to reach the operational airspace zone. Coordination will be maintained between civil and military ATCos for the transition between the military and civil controlled portions of airspace used. Use of transponder during overall mission is foreseen.

Contingency plans will be provided for emergency cases (e.g. loss of communication) to be demonstrated to some extent during the real flights and supported by complementary simulation. Handover between LOS and BLOS communication will be performed during the flight tests without affecting the communications with ATC. Latency and Signal quality (e.g. SNR) will be monitored during overall flight.

Bidirectional RLOS communications will be performed by direct links to provide C2 uplink (two channels), ATC relay and downlink, as well as video data while RPA operates in LOS with the GCS.

On the other hand, BRLOS satcom link over Ku link will be available to perform the demonstration test during those parts of the flights where direct LOS links are not available.

The communications architecture (LOS, BLOS and ATC links) is presented in the next figure:

DeSIRE communications architecture (LOS, BLOS and ATC links)


Key Issues

The maritime surveillance mission proposed will be designed taking into account conclusions from previous studies as well the requirements collected directly from potential users and stakeholders collaborating in the project. The demonstration will carry missions in coastal areas, where different kind of objects will be monitored, such as pateras (small boats used by illegal immigrants to reach Spanish coast) among others, small leisure ships and commercial maritime transport ships. The mission will be split in several scenarios, according to various events and communication test and failure cases to be evaluated. Detailed flight plans and associated contingency plans to cope with emergency situations will be defined, as well as detailed Concept of Operations (CONOPS) for every aspect of the demonstration campaign.

Current Status

At Baseline Design Review milestone, on October 2012, the following specifications documents were successfully produced with the collaboration of many European stakeholders:

  • Demonstration Requirements
  • High-level Mission and System Architecture Definition.

The Critical Design Review meeting, held at EDA premises by mid-January, consolidated the following deliverables:

  • Demonstration Mission Management Concept
  • Demonstration System Detailed Architecture
  • System Verification Test Plan (1st issue)
  • CONOPS Definition (1st issue)

By the 22nd of April 2013, all the applicable formal permissions/authorizations were obtained and the demonstration system was ready for the trials. During the Demonstration Qualification Review meeting, held at San Javier airport (Murcia, Spain), ESA and EDA authorized to start the demonstration flights campaign.

San Javier Air Base (Murcia) was selected to conduct the trials. On the 22nd, 23rd and 24th of April, a series of test flights was performed to demonstrate the role of satellite communications for integrating RPAS flying in Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS) in civil and military airspaces. Furthermore, a generic terrestrial and maritime surveillance mission was carried out, successfully demonstrating the dual use of RPAS.

Relevant communications parameters were measured during the different flight stages.

The demonstration flights campaign was complemented with a Observation Day attended by more than 100 representatives from different European stakeholder organizations, as well as in the presence of the Chief of Staff of the Spanish Air Force, Francisco Javier Garcí­a-Arnaiz. For more information about the demonstration flights campaign, please visit: ESA-EDA-Flight-Demonstration


Quantitative and qualitative information collected during the demonstration flights were analyzed and assessed. They led to final conclusions, learnt lessons and recommendations, which were disseminated in different international events (EUROCAE WG 73 plenary session, November; 11th Maritime Reconnaissance and Surveillance conference, September 2013).

The DeSIRE final presentation took place at the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, on November 29th, 2013, in the frame of the "4th User/Stakeholder Workshop on Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS)" organised by ESA, EDA, EUROCONTROL and EASA.

The project is now completed and its main achievements can be summarized as follows:

  • It has been generated preliminary evidence that using satellite technologies for RPAS safety communications and payload is acceptable in terms of link quality (data rate capacity, latency, BER and availability), in particular for the communications between the Air Traffic Controller and Pilot-in-Command. Thus, an important result of DeSIRE is that satellites can constitute a key enabler for inserting RPAS operations into the general airspace, allowing them to follow ATC instructions properly.
  • Feedback received from the participating users and stakeholders (the Spanish Guardia Civil and Spanish Air Force) about the flight campaign demonstrated that RPAS supported by satellite for flying BRLOS can satisfy user needs for maritime surveillance missions in terms of detection, location, tracking, recognition and identification of mobile and fixed targets both at sea and on the coastline.
  • Finally, the experience and tests results collected during the project have yielded a series of lessons learnt and recommendations to be used as valuable input by those actors participating in the regulatory and R&D activities that will cover the required roadmap to insert RPAS operations into General Air Traffic, thus permitting a wide spectrum of civil applications to become a reality in Europe.


Status Date

Updated: 30 May 2013 - Created: 15 February 2014