Space-enabled 5G to help reach remote and dangerous places

Fri, 24 Jun 2022 12:52:00 GMT
ESA United Kingdom

Engineers have used converged satellite and terrestrial networks to communicate with a nimble...

Engineers have used converged satellite and terrestrial networks to communicate with a nimble four-legged robot designed to explore environments that are too risky for people to access.

The robot is already being used by organisations across the world for a number of applications, including remote monitoring at nuclear power facilities and tracking the progress of construction projects.

The seamless and ubiquitous connectivity delivered by integrated satellite and terrestrial telecommunications networks could help operators maintain constant contact with the robot, even when it is in remote areas with little terrestrial coverage.

In the first, a direct connection was established between the robot and the operator using the ESA 5G/6G Hub's private terrestrial 5G network.

Next, the connection was rerouted via a satellite, demonstrating the integration of communications networks on the ground and in space.

In the final test - which was completed outside the ECSAT building - the operator connected to ESA's private satellite 5G network, which was then linked to the robot via a mobile device connected over a terrestrial commercial 4G network.

The combination of the private 5G network, satellite and commercial 4G network worked seamlessly to provide continuous connectivity from the operator to the robot.

Antonio Franchi, Head of ESA's 5G/6G Strategic Programme Line, said: "From our 5G/6G Hub, we are working with industry to explore and realise the huge potential of converged telecommunications networks. This promising demonstration shows how space-enabled 5G could promote safety and efficiency in the nuclear power industry, as well as other industries with potentially hazardous working environments."

"Guy Burroughs, Robotics Decommissioning Lead at the UK Atomic Energy Authority's Remote Applications in Challenging Environments facility, said:"Enabling a robot such as Spot to traverse and complete inspections in unknown environments, complete with path planning, collision avoidance and without communication delays, is vital for areas lacking existing infrastructure - common in the decommissioning of legacy plants.

"We provided funding for the state-of-the-art 5G/6G Hub at ECSAT to enable UK researchers and engineers to better understand the benefits of satellite integration into 5G networks, create new opportunities for businesses, and catalyse investment into the UK's thriving space sector."