Unmanned aircraft are becoming a feature of daily life, with applications ranging from recreation, professional photography/videography, sports and movies to environmental monitoring and military surveillance.
Usually referred to as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones, these systems range from less than 1kg to more than 1 000 kg, offer flight endurance that varies from minutes to days, and can cost anything from less than $100 up to many millions of dollars.
To be effective as a high-end surveillance tool in day/night operations, UAVs must be able to carry an electro-optical/infrared payload (or other system for observing a target area) from a few thousand feet up, for as long as it takes to fly to and from the target area and complete the mission.
The mass of payloads in this class of UAV is typically between 10 and 35 kg. To carry the payload plus its own mass and sufficient fuel for several hours, the UAV must be of sufficient size. Most international offerings in this line include UAVs with a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 200 kg or more.
Tellumat’s design aims for the “sweet spot” of combining maximum performance, affordability and cost-effectiveness.
For this challenge, we designed and integrated a medium-sized UAV with an own-design flight mission computer; navigation sensors; an Internet protocol (IP) video/data link with airborne and ground directional antennas as well as a ground control station (GCS); and a cost-effective 10kg payload.
Named Astus, the system provides real-time reconnaissance and target location by transmitting surveillance video/data to the GCS via data link at line-of-sight distances of up to 250 km. At the GCS, data is viewed and recorded, and from there it may be further distributed if required.
The UAV is controlled and tracked from the GCS using a high-bandwidth C-band data link. An autonomous return-to-base function as well as a backup link allows the safe retrieval of the UAV in the case of loss of the primary link.
The UAV has a 90 kg MTOW, 5.2 m wingspan, cruise speed of 55-60 knots and a service ceiling of 16 000 feet above mean sea level (AMSL). Its mission endurance is greater than 7 hours at 5 000 feet AMSL.
The Astus offers a cost-effective high-performance surveillance system that is quickly and easily deployed, at a price point that most users in developing nations can afford.
It features a very small logistics footprint (the entire system can be transported in a small van) and needs a small operating crew of just four persons.
The system is of South African origin and is free of ITAR restrictions, depending on the payload equipment selected. Flight testing of the prototype was completed in February 2017. The production-ready system is planned for market launch in late 2018.