Airbus covered the entire cargo spectrum recently – from its BelugaST transport of an Airbus satellite to a successful series of use-case tests of its ‘cargo copter’. The latter is a 35 kg triple-function drone prototype, designed to assist on earth and at sea, whilst the former weighs 4.5 tons and is destined to orbit our planet at a distance of 36,000 km. A perfect illustration both of the vast range of expertise and application within Airbus, as well as the perpetual need for air cargo.
One lifts off while the other touches down. This was the case at the Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island in Florida last week. Just hours before Airbus’ BelugaST (A300-600ST) Number 3 touched
down bearing its valuable HOTBIRD 13G cargo, its twin - the HOTBIRD 13F - was launched into space on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket: a launch that cost $52,000,000. The transport from Toulouse, France,
to the USA, will not have been cheap, but will certainly have cost a great deal less. One cute detail: satellite images showing the delivery of the HOTBIRD 13G to the center, were published in
various media. The HOTBIRD 13G is due to follow its brother into space within the next four weeks.
Bringing clearer images to your screen
The two satellites, members of Airbus’ “Eurostar Neo” family of Airbus telecommunications satellites, ordered in 2018 and developed on behalf of telecommunications satellite operator, EutelSat, are a collaboration project between Airbus, the European Space Agency (ESA), Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES), the UK Space Agency (UKSA), and a few other institutions who have contributed to the next-generation platform and required technologies. Earlier this year, they underwent several mechanical tests at Airbus’ Astrolabe facilities in Toulouse, such as thermal vacuum testing to ensure their resilience to the vacuum and extreme temperatures experienced in space. Their function is to “reinforce and enhance the broadcast of more than a thousand television channels into homes across Europe, Northern Africa and the Middle East… enhance[ing] Eutelsat’s ability to provide connectivity for more than 135 million people”, according to the release. The satellites’ lifespan is 15 years, and they are replacing three older satellites currently in geostationary orbit: HOTBIRDS 8, 9, and 10, which were launched in 2006, 2008, and 2009, respectively.
Cleaner than the first time
The Beluga’s arrival on 15OCT22 was a milestone according to Airbus, as it also signified “the first time since 2009, that the Beluga has visited the USA”. At that time, it delivered the International Space Station European module ‘Tranquility’. The difference this time, aside from the cargo commodity, was that 30% Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) was used to power the flight, thus “reflecting Airbus’ decarbonisation ambitions”, and emitting considerably less CO2.
“It is a true honour to consecutively showcase two satellites for our customer Eutelsat: two pieces of European technology at the iconic Kennedy Space Center,” Jean-Marc Nasr, Head of Space Systems at Airbus, stated. “The ability of Airbus to field an autonomous European solution is underscored by the transportation of our satellites in the unique Beluga aircraft – a true example of pan-Airbus synergies!”
Airbus tests its ‘cargo copter’
A great deal smaller, but with a view to producing a larger specimen, Airbus’ ‘multi-mission cargo copter’ was put to the test over in Portugal, during a robotic military exercise, last month. The 35 kg vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) multicopter is a “sub-scale demonstrator of the future Airbus Multi-Mission and Transport UAS,” developed by Airbus’ UAS New Programmes group in collaboration with the company’s X-Works rapid prototyping team. At full scale, it will eventually be able to carry a 250 kg payload over a 300+ km range. It is equipped with the Airbus-developed DeckFinder™ all-purpose landing aid for automatic landings on ship decks.
The cargo copter was tested in realistic conditions during the REP(MUS)2022 military exercise organized by the Portuguese Navy and NATO, which took place in Portugal’s Troia Peninsula region from 12-23SEP22. “Overall, REP(MUS)2022 brought together some 1,500 personnel [from military forces, universities, and selected industry partners] to test the coordination of unmanned systems and experimental mission scenarios above the water, on the water and under the sea,” the release explains. The cargo copter, which can be deployed to transport cargo or carry out intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions, was tested for its robustness, usefulness, and facility in, for example, swapping-out payloads and batteries.
Testing a small scale prototype in a large scale environment
“This was a great opportunity to trial our small-scale demonstrator in realistic conditions,” Jens Federhen, the X-Works rapid prototyping team leader, explained. “Performing the demonstrations in such a demanding environment – surrounded by six research ships, 11 warships and 120 uncrewed systems around us – was extremely challenging, and at the same time very productive, as we have been able to learn and create useful collaboration links.”
Collaboration and exploration – the Airbus story continues…
We welcome and publish comments from all authenticated users.