Portugal to start making “one of world’s largest drones”

Totally made-in-Portugal AXR will be ready in 2025; fly at more than 200 km/h

Portuguese company Tekever – already supplying drones to the British ministry of defence – is focused on producing one of the largest unmanned planes in the world, totally developed and manufactured between Ponte de Sor, Porto and Caldas da Rainha.

The AXR should be ready in 2025. It will fly at speeds of more than 200 km/ hour, and it will be financed by the RRP (recovery and resilience plan), “an integrated project of the mobilising agendas Aero.Next and Aerospace”, writes Expresso.

Ricardo Mendes, Tekever’s founder and CEO hopes Portugal will buy and use the AXR and become “a client of reference”.

“We are developing in Portugal what will be one of the world’s leading unmanned aerial systems”, he tells Expresso. “The country, through the RRP, is helping to finance it. We want Portugal, as all other countries do, to help bring it to market, becoming a reference customer”.

Tekever’s contract with the British Ministry of Defence involves the AR5, a drone with a wing span of almost eight metres and 20 hours of flight autonomy. It is used in maritime patrols “to control pollution, illegal fishing and human trafficking”.

To date, the Portuguese Navy has not signed up for any AR5s.

As to the creation of its larger, more powerful ‘cousin’ the AXR, Mendes says the structure production side will take place “primarily in Ponte de Sor”. 

The drone will be designed in Tekever’s engineering hub in Caldas da Rainha. “Then it will have a series of systems on board: electronics, navigation, communications and sensors. They will be made in Caldas da Rainha, in Porto, in Lisbon and elsewhere (…) Our aim is for it to be one of the world’s main products in this area“.

The AXR will be ideal for use to fight fires, carry out coastal surveillance, transport cargo and save people at risk, says Expresso.

It will serve the missions that Tekever’s technology already does “but better and further away. We will be able to carry more sensors, fly higher and faster and have more endurance. It will allow us to cover larger areas more effectively,” says Mendes.

“Today, for example, we need several AR5 systems to be able to cover the Portuguese Exclusive Economic Zone. But the ARX will fly at twice the speed of the AR5, which means it will fly at between 200 and 300 km/hour, and for 24 hours. And it will be able to carrty 150 kg of sensors, when the AR5 carries only 50 kg. We also manufacture sensors,” said Mendes, explaining that “companies working in technology development have to invest a lot before selling, and invest continuously. The funds supporting development and research are a multiplier of our investment capacity. And that allows us to accelerate, to move faster.” 

Tekever also develops satellites. “In the area of space, we have an interesting strategy that we have been developing for quite a few years”, he continues. “We believed that Earth observation was going to be done, not through large satellites, but by networks of small satellites (…) We began to invest in a technology that allows us to make a network system between the various satellites. This technology is marketable, we already do it, and we have several projects with the European Space Agency.

“This is a first line”, he says. “The second is an Earth observation sensor, synthetic architecture radars (SAR) – there are very few manufacturers worldwide; Tekever is one of them. The sensor is one that allows us to get images through clouds and treetops, for example, at night or day. It’s extraordinarily interesting. We are betting on the development of a SAR that is already onboard drones and can be used on +board satellites (…)  One of the projects with which we applied for RRP funding, and which was approved, was the creation of a constellation of SAR satellites.” 

This constellation “will be a partnership between Tekever and other investors. The plan is that the new satellites will be launched in three years. And that will allow us to complement the information that we already provide today to our clients, such as the Home Office (British Defence) or the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA)”, with whom the company has a contract worth €30 million.

“These satellites will allow us to complete and cross-reference real-time information coming from drones with the information, which will not be in real time, but will be over large areas, coming from the satellites,” Ricardo Mendes concludes – indicating just how much in the way of innovation is taking place in Portugal.

This new plan comes hot-on-the-heels of news that the first aircraft to be developed in Portugal will also be manufactured in Ponte de Sor.

LUS 222 – a 19-seater non-pressurised light aircraft equipped to carry up to 2,000kgs of cargo, and with a range of 2,000 kms, is a joint project between CEiiA, the centre for engineering and development, EEA Aircraft and Ponte de Sor municipality. The first model is expected toi be ready for certification in 2025/ 2026.

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