July 02, 2012
Credit: Credit: Bill Sweetman
Christina Mackenzie and Bill Sweetman Paris
More hardware, less software: that sums up the 2012 Eurosatory show held in Paris in mid-June. It was back to the basic toys for boys: tanks, other armored vehicles, self-propelled and towed guns and a wide range of unmanned ground vehicles (UGV) where the only limits are the engineers' imaginations. In that field, Indian industry came up trumps.
Sartaj Singh, a scientist at the Center for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics at the Defense Research & Development Organization (DRDO) in Bangalore, drew crowds all week long with his “snake” which sidewinds, slithers and raises its camera-bearing “head” up like a cobra. He told AW&ST delightedly that the beast was the product of his own research but that the Indian army was looking into its possible uses.
Also making a big debut at the show was U.S. company ReconRobotics, which has emerged rapidly as a leader on the “throwbot” scene, with well over 3,600 vehicles delivered. The company had designed a booth that allowed visitors to operate its UGVs without seeing them, showing off the simplicity of the control unit and the vehicle's cat-like ability to right itself on landing.
From snakes to satellites: Astrium was showing its concept for a GO3S (geostationary space surveillance system), a satellite that can acquire images and send them back to Earth in near real-time, which could make HALE (high-altitude, long-endurance) unmanned air vehicles (UAV) superfluous. Today's Earth-observation satellites, such as Spot or Helios, operate in low orbit 800 km (497 mi.) above the surface of the Earth. “However, having to wait for the satellite to overfly the zone to be observed and then overfly the receiver antenna so that the images can be retrieved is not a satisfactory solution when lives are at stake and a rapid response is required using information that is as up-to-date as possible,” says Astrium. This can take anywhere from 10 hr. to three days.
The advantage of geostationary orbit is that the satellite remains in the same spot 36,000 km above the Earth's surface, has a footprint covering one-third of the Earth's surface at a time and can stare constantly at a given area. Such a system would provide useful continuous observation of large areas such as the Indian Ocean to help in the fight against piracy off the coast of Somalia, for example.
GO3S has a resolution of three meters. It thus will not be able to read a license plate on a vehicle but can certainly observe traffic movements at an airport, detect a fast boat among ship traffic and see traffic flow on roads. Like airborne wide-area surveillance systems, it will not take full-speed video but will snap stills at a high frame rate. Benoit de Maupeou, business development manager for Earth observation, told Aviation Week that the satellite would be complementary to a MALE (medium-altitude, long-endurance) UAV. “If the satellite saw something unusual in ship traffic movements for example, government authorities could send a MALE to that spot to get a closer picture,” he explained.
The satellite is an Astrium-funded project that de Maupeou says is sparking “a great deal of interest.” He says “we know how to make all the technological bricks” so if funding is forthcoming and the project gets the go-ahead next year “then it could be in service by 2022 or 2023.”