05 December 2017

Space Technology to be Applied to Autonomous Shipping Services  

Two Industrial Giants Collaborate on Logistical Advances

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Shipping News Feature EUROPE – Rolls-Royce and the European Space Agency (ESA) have signed a Memorandum of Intent (MOI) agreement aimed at pursuing space activities in support of autonomous, remote controlled shipping and promoting innovation in European digital logistics. The plan is to study the applications of various space assets with regard to autonomous shipping, such as satellite-based positioning, better situational awareness using Earth observation data, and satcom services for improved on board connectivity.

The collaboration aims to develop and validate new solutions for communication between vessel and shore based systems in addition to ship-to-ship communications, which ESA has been working on for some time under its Satellite for 5G (S45G) initiative. The next generation of 5G communications will rely on seamless integration of telecom networks and services, and ESA’s Satellite for 5G Initiative exists to support the technical and supply chain progress required, and follow through to support development of the commercial services that this enables. Jan Wörner, ESA’s Director General explains:

“Space technologies provide tangible benefits for the citizens of Europe or of the member states of ESA. Partnerships, such as this one with Rolls-Royce, take solutions originally developed for the unique challenges of the space environment and bring them down to Earth.

“Space 4.0 and ESA’s Satellite for 5G Initiative enable, support and foster developments, validations and trials of products and applications in diverse areas of the maritime industry, and this partnership between the European Space Agency and Rolls-Royce will enable satellites to serve ship intelligence, marine operations, navigation, cargo logistics, maritime safety, healthcare, passenger and crew communications.”

The two partners agreed to cooperate to test, validate and innovate on satcom connectivity technologies and applications between vessel and shore, as well as support the testing and modelling of the safety-critical software that would make self-operated ships viable. Future Rolls-Royce navigation and telecommunication equipment will be able to be tested at ESA’s technical base in the Netherlands, capitalising on the centre’s space-grade facilities. Karno Tenovuo, Rolls-Royce, SVP Ship Intelligence, said:

“The space industry has been operating assets remotely for many decades. The information, software and satellite-based technologies the sector has developed are wholly relevant to the work Rolls-Royce is doing to make the remote and autonomous ship a reality.

“The current wireless carriers like satellite and associated infrastructure need to be developed to facilitate the development of remote & autonomous ships, as existing configurations were not designed for this purpose. Rolls-Royce and the ESA will look at developing satellite-based positioning for ‘smart’ ships which will be based on its ‘earth observation platform’. This could create greater spatial and situational awareness for those operating the vessel remotely. It will also allow satellites to capture and share the data from a number of vessels simultaneously.

“It allows any aspect of an asset to be explored through a digital interface, creating a virtual test bench to assess the safety and performance of a vessel and its systems, both before its construction and through its lifecycle. By creating ships and ship technology in a virtual environment, new ideas and technology can be realised and tested in a shorter time frame.”

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