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MQ-9B SkyGuardian Drone Demonstrates Multi-Orbit Satellite Communication

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI), SES, and Hughes Network Systems have demonstrated a multi-orbit satellite communications (SATCOM) capability using an MQ-9B SkyGuardian remotely piloted aircraft.

The test was launched from GA-ASI’s Desert Horizon flight operations facility at El Mirage, California.

During the demonstration, SES featured its multi-orbit O3b SATCOM system that uses a high-throughput, low-latency, medium Earth orbit geosynchronous satellite fleet.

The O3b enables drones such as the MQ-9 series to “maintain high-workload, mission-critical connectivity and resiliency, even in contested environments.”

“This demonstration proves the importance of next generation SATCOM for operators of our aircraft,” Senior Vice President for GA-ASI M-Q9 Systems Fred Darlington said.

“As we expand into new and more intricate payloads for our [remotely piloted aircraft], we’ll require higher data rates that provide the bandwidth, security and robustness to operate our sensors.”

“Innovation is the key in supporting transformational changes in the ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) services, and this demonstration is one more example of how the industry can work together to bring something special to market,” SES Vice President Will Tong added.


The O3b SATCOM is integrated with Hughes’ HM400 software-defined modem and resource management system, which supports a military’s primary alternate contingency emergency planning.

“Together with GA-ASI, we were able to prove out new levels of secure, flexible and high-performance multi-orbit services for ISR, with 10x performance on a significantly smaller form factor, with increased resiliency and security for the end users,” Tong said.

HM400 operates with a low probability of intercept/detection modes, while Hughes’ management system works with the modem to automatically switch and optimize signals within seconds in flight.

“Combined with the Hughes Resource Management System, the frequency-agnostic, open architecture HM System helps GA-ASI meet their military customer’s requirements for uninterrupted, high data rate, multi-orbit SATCOM, ensuring secure information accessibility for the right people at the right time.” Hughes Defense General Manager and Vice President Rick Lober explained.

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