Tag Archives: Airbus

Laser Communication

Airbus and the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) have launched a programme to develop a laser communication terminal demonstrator for aircraft, known as UltraAir.

ScyLight
Airbus and TNO to develop aircraft laser communication terminal

The project, which is co-financed by Airbus, TNO and the Netherlands Space Office (NSO), is part of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) ScyLight (Secure and Laser communication technology) programme. It covers the design, construction and testing of the technology demonstrator. Laser communication technologies are the next revolution in satellite communications (satcom), bringing unprecedented transmission rates, data security and resilience to meet commercial needs in the next decade.

The UltraAir terminal will be capable of laser connections between an aircraft and a satellite in geostationary orbit 36,000 km above the Earth, with unparalleled technology including a highly stable and precise optical mechatronic system. The technology demonstrator will pave the way for a future UltraAir product with which data transmission rates could reach several gigabits-per-second while providing anti-jamming and low probability of interception. In this way UltraAir will not only enable military aircraft and UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) to connect within a combat cloud, but also in the longer term allow airline passengers to establish high-speed data connections thanks to the Airbus’ SpaceDataHighway constellation. From their position in geostationary orbit, the SpaceDataHighway (EDRS) satellites relay data collected by observation satellites to Earth in near-real-time, a process that would normally take several hours.

Airbus is leading the project and brings its unique expertise in laser satellite communications, developed with the SpaceDataHighway programme. It will coordinate the development of the terminal and testing on the ground and in the air. As key partner of the project, TNO provides its experience in high-precision opto-mechatronics, supported by the Dutch high-tech and space industry. Airbus Defence and Space in the Netherlands will be responsible for the industrial production of the terminals. Airbus’ subsidiary Tesat brings its technical expertise in laser communication systems and will be involved in all testing activities.

The first tests will take place at the end of 2021 in laboratory conditions at Tesat. In a second phase, ground tests will start early 2022 in Tenerife (Spain), where connectivity will be established between an UltraAir demonstrator and the laser terminal embarked on the Alphasat satellite using the ESA Optical Ground Station. For the final verification, the UltraAir demonstrator will be integrated on an aircraft for flight testing by mid-2022.

As satellite services demand is growing, the traditional satcom radio-frequency bands are experiencing bottlenecks. Laser links also have the benefit of avoiding interference and detection, as in comparison to the already-crowded radio frequencies, laser communication is extremely difficult to intercept due to a much narrower beam. Thus, laser terminals can be lighter, consume less power and offer even better security than radio.

This new programme is a key milestone in the roadmap of Airbus’ overall strategy to drive laser communications further, which will bring forward the benefits of this technology as a key differentiator for providing Multi-Domain collaboration for Government and defence customers.

Factory in space

Airbus has been selected by the European Commission to study spacecraft manufacturing in space through the Horizon 2020 Programme. The PERIOD (PERASPERA In-Orbit Demonstration) project focuses on satellite assembly and manufacturing in orbit. This A/B1 phase study contract, worth €3 million, will last two years, with the objective to continue with a demonstrator in orbit.

PERIOD Demonstrator
Airbus pioneers first satellite factory in space

The «orbital factory» envisioned by PERIOD will pioneer construction of major components such as antenna reflectors, assembly of spacecraft components and satellite payload replacements, directly in space.

This is the precursor to future manufacturing of large structures in orbit. Producing directly in orbit will revolutionise the way space systems are designed, built and operated. It has significant advantages over the traditional approach – where everything is produced on Earth and subsequently transported to space – since objects made in space are freed from the constraints and requirements of launch (launcher mass and volume limitations, structural strength to withstand launch).

To achieve this goal, Airbus Defence and Space in Bremen, is leading a team of seven European innovators, bringing their own expertise in fields such as robotic operation, virtual reality, and in-space assembly: DFKI, EASN-TIS, GMV, GMV-SKY, ISISPACE, SENER Aeroespacial and Space Applications Services.

By validating disruptive capabilities, PERIOD will demonstrate the value of in space servicing, manufacturing and assembly. It will also help Europe develop capability and industrial infrastructure to put it at the leading edge of the in-orbit servicing and manufacturing market. PERIOD will stimulate future research and generate new market opportunities, leading to jobs and growth in forward-looking technology.

The future space factory, as well as the demonstrator, could be orbited by a launcher and would then activate and start producing in orbit as a free flyer. An alternative demonstration mission, offering more flexibility and for a lower cost, would be to use ISS infrastructure.

«Airbus has been working on in-orbit manufacturing technologies for more than a decade and the PERIOD programme will help Europe move its combined technological know-how to the next level», said Silvio Sandrone, head of Space Exploration future projects at Airbus. «Future large scale space systems can only be manufactured and assembled in orbit, so it’s crucial that Europe is at the forefront of this key capability».

Airbus teams are already involved in a number of other in-space research programmes including Metal3D, the first ever metal 3D printer due to be deployed to space next year, in a project funded by the European Space Agency (ESA), and the MANTOS project, which demonstrated robotic and AI-based assembly operations with the support of German Space Agency (DLR).

Space Manufacturing Reflector
In-space antenna and satellite assembly: first steps towards space manufacturing

Moon Cruiser

Airbus has been awarded a CLTV (Cis-Lunar Transfer Vehicle) study for a «Moon Cruiser» by the European Space Agency (ESA). According to the study concept (two parallel Phase A/B1), the CLTV is a versatile, autonomous logistics vehicle that could, for example, provide timely and efficient support to NASA and ESA in the implementation of the future Artemis Moon missions. The spacecraft will be based on existing and proven technologies and will complement the multipurpose European Large Logistic Lander (EL3).

CLTV (Cis-Lunar Transfer Vehicle)
Versatile, autonomous logistics vehicle to support future lunar missions based on heritage from Orion ESM and ATV

The execution of lunar missions, including landing on the Moon and setting up upcoming lunar space station, Gateway, is a complex and challenging task for the international community. It requires a precisely planned chain of supply and logistics missions. The Airbus Moon Cruiser concept supports these challenges in several ways:

  • Gateway logistics: the CLTV can transport cargo or fuel for refuelling in lunar orbit and to the Gateway, the international project led by the two main contributors NASA (United States) and ESA (Europe), supporting a sustainable presence on the Moon and exploration beyond and a pillar of NASA’s Artemis programme.
  • Transfer of a large Lunar Module into Low Lunar Orbit: The CLTV is required to fly a lander or an ascent stage between the Gateway and the low lunar orbit, to perform landing and ascent missions with larger and more extensive services.
  • CLTV’s versatility will also allow it to support missions to post-ISS orbital infrastructure in LEO as well as missions in the field of GEO satcom servicing.

The CLTV’s design allows multiple mission types to be carried out with a single vehicle and is compatible with various launchers. Airbus’ solution is a mature, versatile and modular concept based on a large portfolio of mission and vehicle designs for Human Space-flight and Exploration built by Airbus for ESA including the Orion European Service Module (ESM), as well as five successful Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) space transporter missions, carrying a total of around 30 tonnes of cargo into space.

«With the Airbus Moon Cruiser concept for CLTV, we are establishing the first building blocks for humans and machines to work together all the way between the Earth and the Moon. CLTV can serve Gateway logistics and add value to the EL3 Large Lunar Lander by enabling additional missions, whether standalone for Europe or as part of wider international co-operation», said Andreas Hammer, Head of Space Exploration at Airbus.

The CLTV can be launched on Ariane 6, and it could transport a module of over 4.5 tonnes to the Gateway. The European Space Agency ESA could deploy the CLTV in the second half of the decade and it is planned that the CLTV will literally «cruise» on a direct flight path to the Moon.

The target is to validate the following, implementation phase (B2/C/D) of CLTV at the next Ministerial Council in 2022, with the aim of launching in 2027.

Airbus is building the European Service Module for ESA for the new NASA spacecraft Orion, the central spacecraft of future NASA space exploration. The first service module has already been delivered to NASA by Airbus. A second service module is currently being built at Airbus in Bremen. The first launch for Orion – a test flight without astronauts – will take Orion into a lunar orbit and back to Earth under the Artemis I mission and is scheduled for 2021.

Belgian Air Force

The Belgian Air Force has taken delivery of its first of seven Airbus A400M military transport aircraft. The aircraft was handed over to the customer at the A400M Final Assembly Line in Seville (Spain) and subsequently performed its ferry flight to the 15th Wing Air Transport in Melsbroek (Belgium), where the aircraft will be based.

Airbus A400M
Airbus delivers the first A400M to the Belgian Air Force

This A400M, known as MSN106, will be operated within a binational unit composed of a total of eight aircraft, seven from the Belgian Air Force and one from the Luxembourg Armed Forces.

The second A400M for Belgium will be delivered in early 2021.

Alberto Gutierrez, Head of Military Aircraft at Airbus Defence and Space, said: «With the delivery of this aircraft all launch customers are now equipped with the A400M. MSN106 will join Luxemburg’s aircraft in the binational unit operated jointly with Belgium. Despite challenges due to Covid-19, our teams have achieved all 10 aircraft deliveries scheduled this year, bringing the global fleet in operation to 98 aircraft».

 

Specifications

DIMENSIONS
Overall Length 45.10 m/148 feet
Overall Height 14.70 m/48 feet
Wing Span 42.40 m/139 feet
Cargo Hold Length (ramp excluded) 17.71 m/58 feet
Cargo Hold Height 3.85-4.00 m/12 feet 7 inch-13 feet
Cargo Hold Width 4.00 m/13 feet
Cargo Hold Volume 340 m3/12,000 feet3
WEIGHTS
Maximum Take Off Weight 141,000 kg/310,850 lbs
Maximum Landing Weight 123,000 kg/271,200 lbs
Internal Fuel Weight 50,500 kg/111,300 lbs
Maximum Payload 37,000 kg/81,600 lbs
ENGINE (×4)
EuroProp International TP400-D6 11,000 shp/8,200 kW
PERFORMANCE
Maximum Operating Altitude 12,200 m/40,000 feet
Maximum Cruise Speed (TAS) 300 knots/345 mph/555 km/h
Cruise Speed Range 0.68-0.72 M
RANGE
Range with Maximum Payload (37,000 kg/81,600 lbs) 1,780 NM/2,050 miles/3,300 km
Range with 30,000 kg/66,000 lbs Payload 2,450 NM/2,796 miles/4,500 km
Range with 20,000 kg/44,000 lbs Payload 3,450 NM/3,977 miles/6,400 km
Maximum Range (Ferry) 4,700 NM/5,406 miles/8,700 km

 

Logistic Lander

Airbus has been selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) as one of the two primes for the definition phase of the European Large Logistic Lander (EL3). In this study (phase A/B1), Airbus will develop the concept of a large multi-role logistic lander able to transport up to 1.7 tons of cargo to any location on the lunar surface. EL3 flights are set to begin in the late 2020s, with a cadence of missions over the following decade and more.

Artemis Basecamp Cargo
Artemis Basecamp Cargo

Europe is already contributing to the Global Exploration Roadmap agreed by 14 space agencies around the world, in which Airbus is also playing its part. European participation includes international missions to Mars, substantial elements for crewed space stations – the International Space Station and the Lunar Gateway – and the Orion European Service Module (ESM) which will power Artemis, the next human mission to the lunar surface.

With EL3, ESA and its member states will make a further substantial European contribution to the international effort to establish sustainable exploration of the Moon. EL3 will be designed as a fully independent European lunar surface logistics mission capability, including European launch capability with Ariane 6. ESA anticipates flying three to five EL3 missions over a 10 year time frame.

Surface Science Package with Rover
Surface Science Package with Rover

Andreas Hammer, Head of Space Exploration at Airbus, said: «We are extremely thrilled to be starting the definition phase of EL3, Europe’s large Moon lander. Last year in Seville, Europe’s space ministers agreed that the European Space Agency should start preparing a vehicle to fly scientific and logistics cargo to the Moon. Airbus is 100% behind this ambition, as it will enable Europe to play a critical role in the next phase of human exploration of the Moon, and will further strengthen ESA’s status as an invaluable partner in the international space community».

Based on a generic plug-and-play landing element, the EL3 could support a range of lunar activities including: logistics support for crewed missions on the Moon (Artemis base camp), scientific missions with rovers and static payloads, or a sample return mission.

To achieve sustained human presence on the Moon, considerable logistical infrastructure will be needed – whether testing critical technologies or prospecting for lunar resources, starting in-situ production and storage of products like propellant, drinking water or oxygen, or even creating a long term settlement.

Sample Return LAE & Rover
Sample Return LAE & Rover

 

EL3’s journey: an independent, all-European solution

EL3, launched on an Ariane 64 from Kourou as a single payload of up to 8.5 tons, can be put on a direct trajectory to the Moon, similar to the trajectory flown by Apollo 50 years ago.

After roughly four days of barbecue-like travel (i.e. slow and constant rotation to optimise the thermal control of the spacecraft), insertion into a Low Lunar Orbit (LLO) will be achieved by EL3’s own propulsion system. Depending on the launch window and the landing site on the Moon, EL3 might remain for up to 14 days in LLO, waiting for the right point in time and space to initiate landing.

European Large Logistic Lander (EL3)
European Large Logistic Lander (EL3)

EL3 Airbus concept will use vision based navigation techniques, first developed by Airbus for the ATV ISS resupply vehicle during the elliptical descent orbit and powered descent to achieve unprecedented landing precision. What’s more, EL3 will be equipped with an autonomous hazard detection and avoidance system. This system will scan the landing site for potential hazards (small rocks, craters, or local slopes) which are too small for identification by remote sensing satellites. Based on this autonomous hazard assessment, the safest landing spot in reach will be identified and the lander will be guided to this location.

The study will be led by the lunar exploration team in Bremen, Airbus’ hub for space exploration activities and will involve more than 20 engineers from five Airbus sites in Germany, France, and the UK. Airbus will be working with six companies and one research institute from seven different countries across Europe.

EL3 European Large Logistic Lander

Search and Rescue

The first Airbus C295 aircraft, purchased by the Government of Canada for the Royal Canadian Air Force’s (RCAF) Fixed Wing Search and Rescue Aircraft Replacement (FWSAR) project, has arrived at 19 Wing, Canadian Forces Base Comox, in British Columbia, Canada.

C295
The first C295 lands at 19 Wing, Canadian Forces Base Comox, in British Columbia (Copyright Garry Walker, all rights reserved)

The aircraft, designated CC-295 for the Canadian customer, landed at its home base on September 17th and is the first of the 16 aircraft contracted in December 2016. The contract also includes all In-Service Support elements, training and engineering services, the construction of a new training centre in Comox, British Columbia, and maintenance and support services.

«Airbus is really proud to be able to celebrate this important milestone: the arrival of the first out of 16 Fixed Wing Search and Rescue C295 at the Canadian Forces Base Comox. Thanks to the excellent collaboration with Canadian officials we have overcome the challenges caused by COVID-19 and we were able to deliver the aircraft. Despite the current pandemic, we are confident of achieving the program target of six deliveries by the end of this year. We look forward to our continued collaboration and to the C295 Canada», said Airbus Defence and Space Chief Executive Officer, Dirk Hoke, on a video statement displayed during an official event held today at the 19 Wing Comox Air Base.

Airbus has formally delivered three aircraft to date, the second of which is scheduled to arrive in country in the coming weeks. Deliveries will continue until 2022.

 

Search Radar

Multi-mode radar for detection, localisation, classification, and tracking of targets over water and land – all weather, day or night.

Maximum range of 200 nm/230 miles/370 km, tracking 100+ nm/115+ miles/185+ km surface targets while scanning.

Detects:

  • Ocean-going fishing vessels or merchant ships between 80-200 nm/92-230 miles/148-370 km;
  • Small craft or inflatable boats up to 35 nm/40 miles/65 km;
  • SAR mode provides the capability of distinguishing and recognising ground contacts.

 

Electro-Optical/Infrared sensors

Stabilized, high magnification imaging sensors greatly extend detection, recognition, and identification range.

Multi-spectral imaging (daylight, low light, and thermal) enables search operations under sub-optimal conditions, such as overcast, dusk, and even complete darkness.

Target geo-location eases handoff to ground personnel.

EO/IR sensors lend themselves to search automation.

Search operations are more efficient and economical, with better outcomes.

 

Automatic Identification System (AIS)

Capability to identify and locate ships, aircraft, land bases and navigational aids equipped with AIS transponders.

Fully Integrated Tactical System (FITS).

Ship data provided: position, dimensions, destination, ship name, Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) and call sign.

TX/RX text messages capability.

Multi Role Tanker

Airbus has formally delivered the first of eight Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft ordered by the NATO Multinational MRTT Fleet (MMF) after a ceremony held at the Airbus Getafe site in Spain. The official acceptance of this first aircraft marks a decisive milestone towards the entry into service of this multinational unit formed by the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Norway, Germany, Belgium and the Czech Republic.

The above image shows the first A330 MRTT taking off during an industrial flight performed at Getafe, Spain

The aircraft will take off tomorrow towards its Main Operating Base located in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. The MMF fleet will also operate from a second location, the Forward Operating Base in Cologne, Germany.

Dirk Hoke, Chief Executive Officer of Airbus Defence and Space, said: «The NATO MMF programme perfectly represents the future of defence cooperation and shows the true success of the pooling and sharing concept. As a trusted partner for the armed forces, Airbus is extremely proud to see its A330 MRTT at the forefront and ready to secure decisive capabilities and interoperability for NATO partner nations».

Peter Dohmen, NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA) General Manager, said: «The MMF programme is a prime example of excellent cooperation between nations, the EU and NATO and the strong collaboration between OCCAR and NSPA. This unique state-of-the-art capability will enable our participating nations to perform a wide range of operations in multiple domains. We thank the nations for their continued trust in NSPA as the system manager and wish them success in their future missions».

Matteo Bisceglia, Director of the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation (OCCAR), said: «The delivery of the first MMF aircraft marks a key milestone of the MMF ADS acquisition contract managed by OCCAR. OCCAR is proud to have delivered this aircraft to the customer on time without any shortfalls in performance or over cost. Key points for this success are the MMF Nations’ trust in the ability of NSPA and OCCAR to efficiently manage the Programme, the excellent cooperation with the EU and the willingness to succeed of the experienced MMF team».

The MMF programme is funded by the six nations which will have the exclusive right to operate the NATO-owned aircraft in a pooling arrangement. The aircraft will be configured for in-flight refuelling, the transport of passengers and cargo, and medical evacuation operations.

The European Defence Agency (EDA) initiated the MMF programme in 2012. OCCAR manages the MMF acquisition phase and the first two years of the Initial In-Service-Support as Contract Executing Agent on behalf of NSPA. Following the acquisition phase, NSPA will be responsible for the complete life-cycle management of the fleet.

The A330 MRTT combines the advanced technology of a new generation tanker with the operational experience recorded during more than 200,000 flight hours in service. The A330 MRTT is interoperable with receivers worldwide and delivers true multi-role capabilities as proven during the recent medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) and strategic transport missions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Service Module

The European Space Agency (ESA) has signed a contract with Airbus for the construction of the third European Service Module (ESM) for Orion, the American crewed spacecraft. The contract is worth around €250 million.

Airbus wins ESA contract to construct third European Service Module for NASA’s Orion spacecraft

By ordering this additional service module, ESA ensures the necessary continuity in NASA’s Artemis programme. The third European Service Module (Artemis III Mission) will be used to fly astronauts to Earth’s neighbour in space in 2024 – the first to land on the Moon since Apollo 17 following a hiatus of more than 50 years.

«Our know-how and expertise will enable us to continue to facilitate future Moon missions through international partnerships», said Andreas Hammer, Head of Space Exloration at Airbus. «By working together with our customers ESA and NASA as well as our industrial partner Lockheed Martin, we now have a reliable planning basis for the first three lunar missions. This contract is an endorsement of the joint approach combining the best of European and American space technologies».

David Parker, ESA Director of Human and Robotic Exploration, said: «By entering into this agreement, we are again demonstrating that Europe is a strong and reliable partner in Artemis. The European Service Module represents a crucial contribution to this, allowing scientific research, development of key technologies and international cooperation – inspiring missions that expand humankind’s presence beyond Low Earth Orbit».

The first non-crewed Orion test flight with a European Service Module (Artemis I) will fly in 2021. It is as part of the following mission, Artemis II, that the first astronauts will then fly around the Moon and back to Earth.

The ESM will provide propulsion, power, air and water for the astronauts, as well as thermal control of NASA’s new spacecraft.

More than 20,000 parts and components are used in each ESM, from electrical equipment to engines, solar panels, fuel tanks and life support supplies for the astronauts, as well as approximately 12 kilometres/7.5 miles of cables. The first service module was delivered to NASA in November 2018 and has already been mated with the Crew Module. The fully integrated spacecraft already finished the thermal-vacuum testing at NASA’s facility in Ohio, USA, and returned to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA, while the second service module is now being integrated and tested by Airbus in Bremen, with delivery set for the first half of 2021.

During the development and construction of the ESM, Airbus has drawn on its experience as prime contractor for ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), which provided the crew on board the International Space Station with regular deliveries of test equipment, spare parts, food, air, water and fuel.

The ESM is cylindrical in shape and about four metres in diameter and height. It has four solar arrays (19 metres/62 feet across when unfurled) that generate enough energy to power two households. The service module’s 8.6 tonnes/18,960 lbs. of fuel can power one main engine and 32 smaller thrusters. The ESM weighs a total of just over 13 tonnes/28,660 lbs. In addition to its function as the main propulsion system for the Orion spacecraft, the ESM will be responsible for orbital manoeuvring and position control. It also provides the crew with the central elements of life support such as water and oxygen, and regulates thermal control while docked to the crew module.

Low Level Flight

The Airbus A400M new generation airlifter has achieved a new decisive milestone after the certification of its Automatic Low Level Flight capability, offering a unique in its class capability for a military transport aircraft.

Airbus A400M achieves Automatic Low Level Flight certification

The certification campaign, performed in April above the Pyrenees and central France, involved operations down to 500 feet/152 m, including transitions from low level flight to other operations like aerial delivery.

This first certification phase concerns operations with Visual Meteorological Conditions, meaning with crew visibility. There will be a second phase including Instrumental Meteorological Conditions, without visibility, to be certified in Q2 2021.

Inherent to the fighter aircraft world, and as a unique capability for a military transport aircraft, the Automatic Low Level Flights improves the A400M’s terrain masking and survivability, making the aircraft less detectable in hostile areas and less susceptible to threats when cruising towards key military operations like aerial delivery, air-to-air refuelling, logistic or other specific special operations.

 

Specifications

DIMENSIONS
Overall Length 45.10 m/148 feet
Overall Height 14.70 m/48 feet
Wing Span 42.40 m/139 feet
Cargo Hold Length (ramp excluded) 17.71 m/58 feet
Cargo Hold Height 3.85-4.00 m/12 feet 7 inch-13 feet
Cargo Hold Width 4.00 m/13 feet
Cargo Hold Volume 340 m3/12,000 feet3
WEIGHTS
Maximum Take Off Weight 141,000 kg/310,850 lbs
Maximum Landing Weight 123,000 kg/271,200 lbs
Internal Fuel Weight 50,500 kg/111,300 lbs
Maximum Payload 37,000 kg/81,600 lbs
ENGINE (×4)
EuroProp International TP400-D6 11,000 shp/8,200 kW
PERFORMANCE
Maximum Operating Altitude 12,200 m/40,000 feet
Maximum Cruise Speed (TAS) 300 knots/345 mph/555 km/h
Cruise Speed Range 0.68-0.72 M
RANGE
Range with Maximum Payload (37,000 kg/81,600 lbs) 1,780 NM/2,050 miles/3,300 km
Range with 30,000 kg/66,000 lbs Payload 2,450 NM/2,796 miles/4,500 km
Range with 20,000 kg/44,000 lbs Payload 3,450 NM/3,977 miles/6,400 km
Maximum Range (Ferry) 4,700 NM/5,406 miles/8,700 km

 

Automatic Refuelling

Airbus has achieved the first ever fully automatic Air-to-Air Refuelling (A3R) operation with a boom system. The flight test campaign, conducted earlier in the year over the Atlantic Ocean, involved an Airbus tanker test aircraft equipped with the Airbus A3R solution, with an F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter aircraft of the Portuguese Air Force acting as a receiver.

Airbus achieves world’s first fully automatic refuelling contacts

This milestone is part of the industrialisation phase of A3R systems ahead of its implementation in the A330 MRTT tanker development.

The campaign achieved a total of 45 flight test hours and 120 dry contacts with the A3R system, covering the whole aerial refuelling envelope, as the F-16 and MRTT consolidate the maturity and capabilities of the development at this stage. The certification phase will start in 2021.

Didier Plantecoste, Airbus Head of Tanker and Derivatives Programmes, said: «The achievement of this key milestone for the A3R programme highlights the A330 MRTT’s excellent capability roadmap development and once more confirms that our tanker is the world’s reference for present and future refuelling operations. Our special thanks go to the Portuguese Air Force for their continued support and help on this crucial development».

The A3R system requires no additional equipment on the receiver aircraft and is intended to reduce Air Refuelling Operator (ARO) workload, improve safety and optimise the rate of air-to-air refuelling transfer in operational conditions, helping maximise aerial superiority. The goal for the A3R system is to develop technologies that will reach fully autonomous capabilities.

Once the system is activated by the ARO, the A3R flies the boom automatically and keeps the alignment between the boom tip and the receiver receptacle with an accuracy of a couple of centimeters; the proper alignment and the receiver stability is checked in real-time to keep a safe distance between the boom and the receiver and also to determine the optimum moment to extend the telescopic beam to achieve the connection with the receiver. At this point, the fuel transfer is initiated to fill up the receiver aircraft and once completed and the disconnection is commanded, the boom is cleared away from the receiver by retracting the telescopic beam and flying the boom away to keep a safe separation distance. During this process, the ARO simply monitors the operation.