Two projects designed to encourage space-based technology in the rail sector have produced feasibility studies.
The Space for Rail programme includes The University of Birmingham’s remote line blockage detection which is aimed at using satellites to detect line blockages, and the VTOL Technologies Ltd.’s unmanned aerial vehicle programme designed to inspect railway infrastructure using autonomous aerial drones.
The deployment of light autonomous aerial drones operating beyond visual line of sight for surveillance and inspection can provide cost savings and significant improvements in performance over traditional helicopter or foot methods available. The system has the potential to exploit integrated space-based technology including precision GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System), satellite communications and potentially earth observation and satellite weather information.
The application of remote line blockage detection using a novel passive imaging radar and GNSS transmissions remote sensing system can provide a reliable means for monitoring railway lines for blockages under extreme weather conditions alerting authorities.
Both studies funded by RSSB and the European Space Agency’s (ESA) integrated applications programme have the potential to change how Network Rail’s assets are managed.
ESA, RSSB and Network Rail are encouraging the innovators to take the technology to demonstrator level.