Volatus Selects the Velaris Connectivity Solution from Inmarsat

Volatus Aerospace chose Inmarsat’s Velaris solution for expansion of its customer offerings in key sectors. (Photo: Inmarsat)

Volatus Aerospace recently selected Inmarsat’s Velaris solution to expand offerings for its customers in public safety, drone cargo delivery, inspection, and other sectors.

The integration of Velaris’ satellite connectivity for small, remotely piloted aircraft and larger crewed commercial aircraft will help to ensure safe operations in all environments.

Inmarsat has been involved in commercial air transport for more than 30 years. Its solutions are used in commercial aircraft like those of Airbus and Boeing for communication, navigation, and surveillance as well as for air traffic control and ensuring separation standards.

This technology plays a crucial role in air traffic control and separation standards, ensuring optimal efficiency and safety during transatlantic flights. However, these solutions have traditionally been bulky and expensive.

Recognizing the need to adapt and miniaturize their technology for UAVs (uncrewed aerial vehicles), Inmarsat embarked on a mission to bring their proven connectivity solutions to the world of unmanned aviation. By shrinking their technology down to roughly 400 grams and significantly reducing costs, Inmarsat has created Velaris—an innovative ecosystem built around miniaturized satellite connectivity. Velaris not only offers a resilient solution for UAVs but also opens up new possibilities for data products and services.

“Our vision was to bring the best of what we’ve got into this space and then to develop that new product and market with [companies] like Volatus and Supernal,” Anthony Spouncer, Senior Director of UAV and UTM at Inmarsat, told Avionics

Volatus operates across various sectors, including pipeline and powerline inspections. These tasks typically involve helicopters and human personnel, presenting challenges such as high costs, weather restrictions, and limited operational hours. By leveraging Velaris, Volatus aims to enhance efficiency, extend operational range, and ensure safety in these critical operations.

“If you can get that type of technology with no one on board, but still maintain the integrity and the safety, then you can be a lot more efficient,” Spouncer commented.

The collaboration between Inmarsat and Volatus also extends to other areas. Volatus is actively exploring opportunities in the delivery market, particularly autonomous cargo transportation. With some platforms capable of flying for up to 48 hours, Volatus envisions using electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicles to transport cargo between cities and regions. This integration of Velaris technology could revolutionize logistics, enabling the swift and efficient delivery of goods to remote communities and warehouses.

Spouncer remarked that safety “is at the heart of what we’re trying to achieve.”

He also talked about how the enhanced connectivity resulting from Inmarsat’s satellite connectivity combined with LTE as a multilink capability will enable Volatus to overcome the challenges associated with beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations.

The challenge with traditional visual line-of-sight operations is that you can only fly a drone or UAV as long as you can see it, he explained. To cover longer distances, you would need one or more individuals stationed further down the flight path. However, the introduction of enhanced connectivity and BVLOS capabilities addresses these challenges. 

Firstly, it is key to trust the technology and ensure continuous connectivity so that the operator knows the exact location of the UAV even if it deviates from the flight plan. Secondly, strategic and tactical deconfliction become possible. As demonstrated by Inmarsat during a UAV flight in Turkey, air traffic control located miles away in London was able to monitor the airspace and notify the pilot to change course when an aircraft approached the UAV. “Now, you can be anywhere and still know where [the aircraft] is,” Spouncer said.

Additionally, UAVs themselves need to incorporate detect-and-avoid technologies to navigate safely, considering factors like weather conditions. The decision-making processes that human pilots naturally perform need to be replicated within the UAV’s systems. Setting a flight plan and having proper identification becomes crucial. Ensuring the accountability of all aircraft in the sky and mitigating risks posed by malicious actors are important aspects to consider. Also, cybersecurity measures are essential when controlling vehicles through communications. Inmarsat has extensive experience and capabilities in this area due to its work with commercial air transport aircraft.

Collaborating with companies like Volatus, Inmarsat assists in developing their concept of operations and refining the performance of its own systems accordingly. BVLOS operations offer numerous opportunities and advantages in terms of economics and expanded services, Spouncer noted.

By leveraging Inmarsat’s enhanced connectivity and BVLOS capabilities, Volatus Aerospace can overcome the challenges associated with BVLOS operation of UAVs. This opens up a realm of opportunities, allowing for expanded services and heightened safety measures.

“Supernal is pleased to collaborate with Inmarsat to test the feasibility of integrating space-based and terrestrial data links to serve the Advanced Air Mobility industry.” – Ben Diachun, Chief Technology Officer, Supernal (Photo: Inmarsat/Supernal)

Inmarsat shared news of another partnership on May 9 with eVTOL developer Supernal to define the application of satellite connectivity for advanced air mobility, or AAM. Spouncer remarked that Supernal’s approach is particularly refreshing. “They’re fully aware that they’ve got to be safety compliant, and that they want to work with us and develop that,” he said.

For Inmarsat’s part in the collaboration, they will focus on conducting testing and data sharing to optimize hardware and network systems to get safe and efficient integration. “I think what’s interesting for us is what sort of data they will need, the timeliness of that, which data products, and how they want to integrate that information into their system to be safe and resilient,” he explained.

Speaking about the AAM industry in general, he added, “We’re in this collaboration phase where we want the industry to work. If it doesn’t work for one of us, it doesn’t work for any of us, so everyone’s keen to open up the industry in a safe and controlled manner.”

Last week, Avionics published news about Inmarsat’s new and improved Jet ConneX (JX) in-flight broadband solution for business aviation. The company’s new service plans offer high-quality connectivity and leverage the JetWave terminal from Honeywell.

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