Opportunity: Advanced Broadband Satcom Solutions for Rotary Wing Aircraft (ARTES FPE 1B.136)


Despite steady order growth for helicopters and an almost exponential growth in rotary wing UAVs worldwide, outside of military and defence applications the utilisation of satellite connectivity onboard such rotary wing aircraft is still somewhat limited.  This is due in part to the narrow range of technical options available and the limited capabilities they provide.

Rotary wing aircraft (traditionally helicopters, but increasingly UAVs) are used extensively in media, entertainment, commercial, logistics, energy, mining, construction, emergency, agricultural, law enforcement and security sectors for a wide range of observation and communication applications.

In some scenarios, the limited available data rates constrain the range of mission options that can be supported, and operators subsequently default to line-of-sight terrestrial communication solutions.  First responders and emergency aid providers often depend on the versatile nature of helicopter and UAVs’ vertical lift capability for survey and access following natural disasters. However, existing communications networks are often damaged or inoperable in such situations and therefore ground hub infrastructure must be shipped and deployed to enable range limited line-of-sight communications.

Current connectivity solutions for helicopters and UAVs exist in MSS bands (L-Band) across networks such as Thuraya, Iridium and Inmarsat, but connection speeds are typically limited to kbps.  Several organisations serving defence markets are looking to leverage recent technology advances in phased array antenna and interleaving modem waveform technology to create mbps-capable aftermarket solutions. However, emerging satcom networks with advanced payloads and low latency capabilities such as Starlink, Kuiper, OneWeb, and O3B mPower may provide opportunities to increase the Beyond-Line-of-Sight comms capabilities of these aircraft beyond a few mbps. 

In the commercial airline and business jet markets, establishing effective broadband satellite connectivity has led to the introduction of a plethora of valuable downstream data services, including fleet operations management, route optimisation, real time predictive analytics, and enhanced crew welfare and passenger experiences.  It is conceivable, should the right technical solutions emerge, that rotary wing aircraft markets could mirror this growth trend and spawn new markets for devices, systems, and data services, uniquely adapted for such versatile aircraft.

Objectives of the Activity

The goal of this activity is therefore to assess whether emerging satcom technologies could enable high bandwidth solutions to be realised for helicopter, UAV and UAM applications.  The output of the activity will include a system technology development roadmap defining the gaps and development steps required, as well as timescales and ROM costs needed to realise any proposed new approach.

The main objectives of the study are as follows:

  • Explore the needs, requirements, opportunities, and potential solutions for establishing effective broadband satellite communication services to rotary winged aircraft including helicopters, commercial Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs), and Urban Air Mobility (UAMs) platforms
  • Research technical limitations such as aircraft imposed mechanical constraints, operational environment, network and service level assurance factors
  • Evaluate and assess the future market potential across all relevant segments
  • Investigate what new capabilities can be achieved through the use of emerging satcom technologies.  In particular, large-scale LEO and MEO constellations, advanced satellite payloads, new antenna technology, new modem protocols, and advanced network management functionality
  • Produce viable end-to-end broadband satcom system concepts that are capable of delivering enhanced data communications capabilities to rotary wing aircraft
  • Define achievable performance targets, simulate link level performance, and provide size, weight, power, cost, and performance assessments of the proposed solutions
  • Conduct a gap analysis and define a development roadmap including timescales and ROM cost estimates

Dependent on positive results, the principal outcomes of this study is to inform the community of the feasibility of the development of an enhanced satcom capability for rotary winged aircraft and to propose follow on ESA activities. 


We are looking for experts in in the following fields:

a) Rotary Wing Aircraft Satcom Systems design and analysis.

b) End-to-End Satellite Communication Networks design and analysis.

c) Satellite Communication systems Simulation and Modelling.


The Invitation to Tender (ITT) has been issued as intended. Opening and closing dates will soon be announced.



ARTES FP is a key programme element, at the beginning of the ARTES progression chain that offers the possibility to acquire knowledge on future satcom market perspectives, investigate future system concepts and prepare initial ‘dossiers’ on strategic initiatives that cannot usually be developed at every Member State’s level. It is based on the concept of a European common effort to produce quality results to set the future of satcom.

You can find more information via the link below:

Published 20 July 2022
Last updated at 20 July 2022 - 20:05