From inspecting powerlines and construction sites to delivering packages and even blood samples and vaccines, drones are already being used for a wide-range of applications. With major technology and transportation companies now testing various Innovative Air Mobility (IAM) use cases, we could see drones transporting cargo from Point A to Point B more often and even people later on onboard manned electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft. With new capabilities come new challenges. According to the EU Drone Strategy 2.0, the rapid increase in drone operations is testing air traffic management’s capacity to safely integrate unmanned aircraft into airspace, so actions are being taken towards achieving such integration inside and outside U-space airspace, including drones flying beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) even over urban areas.
Addressing many of these challenges is EU Space’s purpose.
“Space services and data, such as those offered by EGNOS, Galileo, Copernicus and Secure Connectivity, are well-placed to support this growing yet complex market,” says EUSPA Executive Director Rodrigo da Costa.
You can’t have U-space without EU Space
According to da Costa, the positioning and navigation data and services that Galileo and EGNOS –provide will help enable U-space, Europe’s UAS Traffic Management (UTM) system. “The accurate, reliable and robust positioning that EGNSS offers will be crucial to ensuring that U-space knows the location of every aircraft, both manned and unmanned,” he explains. “Having access to this information is an absolute prerequisite to autonomous and BVLOS drone operations.”
Similar to Air Traffic Management (ATM), U-space is a drone ecosystem designed to control, manage and integrate all UAS flying within the Very Low Level (VLL) airspace. Complementing ATM, it will ensure the safety, security and efficiency of drone operations.
GNSS positioning further allows airspace regulators to create and enforce geofences around events, critical infrastructure or densely populated areas where flight is either regulated, restricted or prohibited. According to FutureFlight, when using a properly equipped drone, an operator will receive a real-time alert whenever they approach or cross into geofenced airspace, allowing them to correct course.
Earth Observation is also set to play a role in UAS operations, particularly as to supporting safe route planning. For instance, maps that integrate Earth Observation data can provide operators with insights on population density, allowing them to plan routes that avoid crowded areas. “Here, Copernicus can help harmonise the way ground risks are assessed across Europe,” adds da Costa.
Developers can use these same data to strategically plan the building of such UAS infrastructure as cargo drops, vertiports and charging stations.
Workshop to put EU Space front and centre
Recognising its immense potential for enabling a harmonised drone ecosystem and complex drone operations, the European Commission’s Drone Strategy 2.0 puts EU Space front and centre. “The strategy aims to maximise the use of space services and data and leverage its unique features to increase business opportunities across the EU drone value chain,” says da Costa.
Responsible for the operational management of the EU Space Programme and for ensuring the continuous provision of its services, EUSPA is playing a key role in the strategy’s implementation. As part of this role, the EUSPA Administrative Board is organising a dedicated workshop on space for drones. The group discussed a strategy for the uptake of EU space services and data for drones and identify and agreed on common lines of action.
The workshop brought together Member States, the European Commission and other relevant EU agencies and stakeholders. “By facilitating the exchange of information on the strategy and actions of EUSPA, Member States and other EU bodies and international organisations, we can foster the use of EU Space services and data for drones, increase awareness and boost economic development in this important market segment,” says EUSPA Administrative Board Chair Václav Kobera.
In addition to sessions by EUSPA on the market uptake strategy, by DG DEFIS on the roadmap for EGNSS services for drones, and DG MOVE on Drone Strategy 2.0, the workshop agenda also included presentations by:
- European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) on new aviation safety rules and regulations and their application to drones and Urban Air Mobility
- European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA) and European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) on their experiences in operating drones for surveillance
And counts with the contribution of EUROCONTROL, the JRC and ESA, as well as experts and representatives from all member states..
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