One of the world’s first autonomous survey vessels will use an ingenious connectivity technology for safe operations and data transfer
Subsea pipelines engineering group Intrepid Hydrographic needed a reliable communications system for connecting unmanned vessels as they conduct sub-surface surveys for offshore oil, gas and renewables in the North Sea.
The solution was a compact onboard terminal for satellite communications over S-band for end-to-end IP connectivity.
Intrepid Hydrographic surveys subsea pipelines and cables using autonomous surface vessels (ASVs) capable of operating unmanned for up to four weeks at a time.
These ASVs need to transmit subsea survey data in real time using a low-power solution from beyond the reach of line-of-sight communications using a high-quality satellite connection maintained automatically, without the need for manual pointing or a high-power source.
Compact terminal hardware designed to cope with the harsh environmental conditions inherent to the North Sea was required.
“A core part of Project Intrepid over the past seven years has been to develop software to sample, compress and transmit data so that onshore surveyors can monitor the quality of surveys in real time,” said Intrepid Hydrographic managing director Trevor Jee.
“For that we needed a reliable satellite connection covering northern European waters, and the southern North Sea in particular,” he explained.
Intrepid Hydrographic approached Marlink for a satellite communications solution for its ASV connectivity requirements this year. “We wanted a small, lightweight dome without moving parts so were looking for electronic satellite tracking,” said Mr Jee,
He also wanted airtime and service support. “Of course, sensible costs were important, however, in this new market, so too was the responsiveness of customer/technical support, and flexibility in how the airtime package was structured,” said Mr Jee.
Marlink responded by providing a satellite-based solution based on the Hughes 4500 terminal operating over S-band launched by EchoStar Mobile in 2019. This low-cost S-band terminal has a high environmental rating (IP67) and requires no manual intervention to acquire and maintain the connection to the satellite.
Hughes’ 4500 terminal has low standby power consumption and relies upon solar-battery arrays and its connection remains unaffected by the often-extreme atmospheric conditions inherent with offshore operations.
To this package, Marlink introduced a series of remote monitoring tools to prevent unnecessary data increasing the airtime costs.
Data was managed to optimise the traffic by using filtering and firewall rule sets, resulting in a scalable and flexible satellite solution for Intrepid Hydrographic’s future sub-surface survey needs.
EchoStar Mobile, Marlink and Intrepid Hydrographic collaborated on a proof of concept over two months through an installation on autonomous survey vessel Intrepid Barracuda.
They tested and evaluated the performance of EchoStar Mobile’s S-band service and the reliability of the Hughes 4500 terminal; assessed the vessel’s data consumption; and created a bespoke airtime plan.
Marlink/EchoStar solution was the second tested on Intrepid Barracuda as in 2019 it conducted trials off East Anglia with a Cobham Satcom antenna on board, according to a notice from the Associated British Ports.
EchoStar Mobile and Hughes are part of EchoStar Corp, which operates nine satellites providing mobile connectivity over S-band and VSAT communications over Ku-band and Ka-band.
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