The tests validated the compatibility of the Intelsat EpicNG platform with the newly developed beam switching capability of the Block 5 Predator® B/MQ-9 from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI). This is the first in-flight switch of an MQ-9 on an HTS satellite. Beam switching is particularly important for U.S. and allied military forces looking to expand UAS operations to high performance, multiple-spot beam, high-throughput satellites such as Intelsat EpicNG.
The multiple spot beam design inherent in high-throughput satellites (HTS) such as the Intelsat EpicNG system substantially increase the satellite’s throughput, allows for the use of much smaller antennas, higher performance from existing antennas, and enhances the security on the satellite over traditional wide beam satellites. This same design also requires that mobility applications across large geographic areas must traverse multiple spot beams on the satellite. These results, verified by General Atomics, demonstrate a path forward for deployed Reaper and Predator UAS to fly confidently on Intelsat EpicNG, including the additional benefits of higher throughput capabilities, extensive footprint and enhanced resilience.
The tests were performed using the UAS operating out of GA-ASI’s flight test facility adjacent to the Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota. During the tests, the UAS flew 1,075 nautical miles round trip to enable it to switch between two spot beams on the Intelsat 29e satellite. Command and control as well as sensor data transmissions from the aircraft were switched successfully multiple times between the two beams.
To conduct the testing, the FAA granted GA-ASI a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) that authorized the Block 5 MQ-9 to fly in airspace managed by air traffic controllers without the requirement of utilizing a “chase” airplane. During the entire flight, control of the UAS was possible via the spot beams from Intelsat 29e.
The Intelsat EpicNG high-performance satellite platform provides government and military users with 2 to 6 times the bandwidth equivalent of conventional commercial satellites or the U.S. government’s Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) satellites. The resiliency of commercial SATCOM is an important feature for government customers and Intelsat EpicNG introduces an even higher level of protection. Anti-jamming capabilities are greatly enhanced with low-probability of intercept (LPI) and jamming-resilience on Intelsat EpicNG satellites, even to non-hopping modems. Interference-mitigation capabilities like on-board power monitoring and notch filtering of interferers/unauthorized users as well as monitoring, re-routing, geo-location and identification of interferers means Intelsat EpicNG SATCOM is better protected for deployment in contested environments.
Currently, there are five Intelsat EpicNG satellites on orbit covering approximately 80% of the earth’s landmasses and surrounding waters with high-throughput beams. In 2019, a sixth Intelsat EpicNG satellite will be launched to cover Australia, the Pacific Ocean and McMurdo Station in Antarctica.
Skot Butler, the President of Intelsat General Corporation, said that the images and other data collected by unmanned aircraft systems are critical for many military operations,. These tests demonstrate the capability of the high-throughput Intelsat EpicNG platform to support aircraft as they travel long distances across multiple spot beams.