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Rolls-Royce, ESA to collaborate on shipping’s digital future
Satellite services for shipping. © Rolls-Royce

Rolls-Royce, ESA to collaborate on shipping’s digital future

Rolls-Royce and the European Space Agency (ESA) have signed a cooperation agreement aimed at pursuing space activities in support of autonomous, remote-controlled shipping.

Rolls-Royce and the European Space Agency (ESA) have signed a cooperation agreement aimed at pursuing space activities in support of autonomous, remote-controlled shipping and — more generally — promoting innovation in European digital logistics.

The collaboration aims to develop and validate new solutions for communication between vessel systems and shore-based systems, in addition to ship-to-ship communication. The goal is to enable the operation of commercial remote and autonomous shipping, innovative cargo logistics, smart ports and future commercial marine vessels.

Rolls-Royce is involved in the maritime sector through the MTU propulsion systems for ships supplied by its Power Systems division, as well as through services to maximise value from data generated by platforms in the air, on land and at sea.

The next generation of 5G communications will rely on seamless integration of telecom networks and services. ESA’s Satellite for 5G Initiative is designed to support the technical and supply chain progress required, and follow through to support development of the commercial services that this enables.

The maritime community already relies on satellite capabilities. SAT-AIS (Satellite Automatic Identification System) permits identification and global tracking of ships using low Earth orbiting satellites to act as information relays.

ESA's Sentinel-1 satellite, part of the EU’s Copernicus programme, is playing a role in the sector. Last August, Sentinel-1 Earth observation data helped the US Coast Guard vessel Maple navigate through the legendary Northwest Passage, showcasing the potential that satellite earth observation can have across the industry, particularly in ship-to-ship data transmission.

Rolls-Royce and ESA also plan to cooperate in harnessing the power of big data. Sensor data will inform augmented and virtual realities, or “digital twins”. A digital twin is an AI copy of a ship, including its systems, that synthesises the information available about the ship in a hologram.

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