ORCA stands for ‘Optical and RF Constellation on Aircraft’: it proposes to use Commercial Aircraft as a ‘Platform’ to carry small equipment mounted on the aircraft; several equipped aircraft form a ‘constellation’ which may support several Earth Observation and Telecommunication services.
The equipment will be EASA certified, will not interfere with regular aircraft operations, and will be operated by the ORCA operator (thus, no intervention is required by the pilot or aviation operator).
The use of existing aerial infrastructure avoids high launch costs
, and furthermore does not create space debris
In DOCS the pipeline and infrastructure monitoring services are addressed, as a challenging application to define the capabilities of ORCA. ORCA is addressed in the DOCS project from the technical, business and legal points of view.
A wide range of EO and Telecommunication services could also be supported by an ORCA constellation, for applications in areas as diverse as Forestry, Oil & Gas, Asset Management, Smart cities, Competitive Intelligence/Analytics, News and Media, Financial trading, Agriculture, Internet of Things, M2M, AIS (maritime applications), etc. The coverage potential of a single fleet (such as the TUI Group fleet) is significant, as can be seen below.
Coverage simulation with TUI Group Fleet for connectivity applications. The yellow area is revisited >20x per day.
This new platform/constellation concept, may even create new markets, not possible with existing systems such as, for example, forest fires or infrastructure monitoring which require absolute real-time information.
Furthermore, the combination of thermal and optical capabilities of the ORCA payload produces products that are unique from a single platform, such as shown below (a fused digital surface model created from DOCS test flight data, showing thermal and vector-based information overlaid on a Google base map).
ORCA complements existing space-based earth observation solutions, by realising a sub-orbital constellation capable of supplying wide coverage earth observation data with high spatial and temporal resolution, in a sustainable and affordable manner.
Such services create cross-industry value:
- Airliners will be able to extract unexploited value from their existing infrastructure
- Constellation developers/users benefit from the new ‘platform’ through decreased cost, as it solves the costly launch issue
- A new market is opened for CubeSat and HAP’s payload manufacturers and equipment providers
- A new source of data for EO service providers and value added resellers
ORCA is a most ecological constellation re-using the most reliable platform, making high quality data available to all, fueling pioneering developments.