The European Space Agency (ESA) is about to embark on the next phase of an effort to integrate unmanned air vehicles into national airspace by utilising satellite command and control.

The first phase of the Demonstration of Satellites Enabling the Insertion of RPAS in Europe (DESIRE) effort finished in 2013, culminating in a series of demonstrations in Spain that saw an Israel Aerospace Industries Heron 1 controlled via a Ku-band satellite.

ESA is now about to start the 18 month, €2.4 million ($2.6 million) DESIRE 2 effort, which will use an as yet undisclosed European UAV to test the next round of satellite control requirements. This will include the use of K- and L-band frequencies, which will be switched between in order to demonstrate a connectivity back up, plus longer and more frequent flight tests.

“The kick-off should be any day now – I can’t tell you the exact team though because the contract hasn’t yet been signed,” Jose Achache, managing director of AP-Swiss – the “Ambassador Platform” for space applications and services for ESA within Swiss industry – told the AUVSI Unmanned Systems Europe conference in Brussels on 4 March.

With a focus on beyond line-of-sight operations, a detect and avoid element will be incorporated into DESIRE 2, and data will be transmitted to test situational awareness. Maritime surveillance, search and rescue and environmental surveillance operations will also be tested. A European UAV will be used in line with the aims of the effort – there are systems available “that are far less expensive than the Heron”, Achache says.

Three demonstration flights lasting 6h each were undertaken during the first phase, including line-of-sight and beyond line-of-sight tests, utilisation of military and civil air traffic control, and day and night maritime missions.

In addition to DESIRE 2, ESA is looking to start a Swiss UAV competition that would focus on detect and avoid development, Achache says.

Swiss industry has experience in developing solar-powered aircraft, so ESA will look towards developing a high-altitude, solar-powered UAV.