The UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) has awarded consortia led by BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, Racal Defence Electronics and Lockheed Martin UK Government Systems (LMUKGS) 12-month long study contracts that are designed to define and assess optimum system solutions to its Sender tactical unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) requirement. Designed to provide British Army field commanders with a UAV-based intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance capability, the Sender study effort will, in its initial phase (scheduled for completion in June 2001), examine mission and payload options, supportability issues, air vehicle concepts and overall system architectures.

Looking at the various teams in more detail, Northrop Grumman's Integrated Systems and Aerostructures sector, El Segundo and Ranch Bernardo, CA, will lead the company's Sender effort with support from the company's Electronic Sensors and Systems sector, Baltimore, MD, Logicon Inc. (with its UK subsidiary INRI-UK) and UK contractors the Smith Group and Ultra Electronics. The LMUKGS team includes Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, Palmdale, CA, UK contractor Hunting Engineering and the UK's Defence Evaluation and Research Agency. The BAE Systems consortium includes US companies Bell Textron and General Atomics together with UK contractor Flight Refuelling. Racal Defence Electronics is teamed with Israeli UAV specialist Silver Arrow amongst others.

The aim of the effort is to produce a unit level UAV with a range of approximately 50 km. Alongside Sender, the UK's MoD is considering a Corps-level system (designated as Spectator) that would have a range of around 150 km. Currently, it seems likely that the Sender and Spectator requirements will be merged into a single programme. Sensors said to be likely candidates for Sender-type applications include electro-optical and infrared systems as well as synthetic aperture radar and ground moving target indication radar.

Claiming to be the world's third-largest producer of satellites, Europe's tri-national Astrium NV concern was officially launched on May 17 and brings together the space businesses of Matra Marconi Space (equally owned by the UK's BAE Systems and France's Aerospatiale-Matra) and DaimlerChrysler Aerospace. With some 7500 employees spread across Europe, Astrium's constituent parts bring together a track record that includes selection as prime contractor on 50 plus communications satellites, 15 low orbit Earth observation satellites, a range of European Space Agency vehicles (including the Cluster II solar observatory, the Mars Express and the Rosetta comet flyby vehicle) and all of Europe's military spy satellites. Essentially a turnkey supplier (capable of delivering satellite buses, payloads, ground terminals and control centres), Astrium also acts as a contractor on the Ariane 4/5 and Rockot/Leolink launch vehicles and the International Space Station. In the future, Spanish contractor CASA's space activities are expected to be folded into Astrium by the end of 2000, with those of Italian contractor Alenia following in 2001.

Elsewhere in the satellite construction field, the European Commission (EC) has expressed serious reservations concerning its sanctioning of Boeing's purchase of Hughes Electronics' satellite business. Unable to proceed without approvals from both Washington and Brussels, analysts predict that the deal will now be pushed back to September 2000 at the earliest and will have to accommodate major competition concession requirements from the EC.

UK contractor Thorn Microwave Devices has announced that as of June 1, it will trade as TMD Technologies Limited. The name change reflects the expiration of a five-year licence to use the name 'Thorn' which was concluded when TMD was the subject of a management buyout in 1995. Chairman and Managing Director Peter Butcher also notes that the new name better reflects TMD's business mix that currently encompasses items such as radar and electronic warfare transmitters and specialist processing services.

Spanish telecommunications provider Telefónica Data España has awarded German contractor Siemens AG a contract to supply it with 9000 of the company's SpeedStream 5660 routers. SpeedStream 5660 is described as being specifically designed to connect Ethernet-based local area networks, as incorporating a standard 10BaseT interface and as being software configurable for both routing and bridging functions. The advanced digital subscriber line technology involved facilitates data, voice and video to be transferred via a standard two-wire copper telephone cable at speeds of up to 8 Mbit/s downstream or 800 Kbit/s upstream. Siemens claims that this represents a 140 fold increase in speed over a conventional 56K modem and that the approach requires no new infrastructure as it utilises existing telephone cabling.

Netherlands manufacturer Philips Semiconductors has launched what it claims is the world's first silicon integrated sensor system for contactless angular measurement using magneto-resistive (MR) technology. Designed primarily for automotive and industrial applications, the contactless MR approach is described as providing a wear-free solution and one that removes the need for a discrete solution on a hybrid. Other approach features include insensitivity to temperature effects and magnet ageing.

At the heart of the new chip set are the KMZ41 MR sensor and a sensor signal conditioning integrated circuit (IC). The addition of the UZZ9000 ratiometric linear voltage output and UZZ9001 digital interface ICs facilitate adapting the set to a range of application environments. Both of these were designed specifically for use with the KMZ41 sensor and enable the set to undertake linear measurement of angles of up to 180°. Equally, they can be used in conjunction with other sensors to provide two sinusoidal output signals with a 90° phase shift. Philips further notes its belief that encapsulating the set's sensor and conditioning electronics separately enhances its resistance to dirt, dust, liquid and mechanical damage. Specific applications for the set include chassis and seat positioning, throttle, variable ventile timing, and suspension and pedal positioning within the automotive sector together with industrial robotics and 'white goods' applications such as dishwashers and washing machines.

Following 12 months of running test wireless application protocol (WAP) gateways, UK telecommunications provider British Telecom (BT) believes that WAP technology in now stable and offers major opportunities for the fielding of products and services. By way of example, BT cites WAP's ability to deliver concise, quality data to mobile telephone users. While the technology is felt to be mature enough to facilitate a reliable service, the provider believes that a number of issues will have to be resolved before WAP really takes off. Here, considerations include making WAP data provision intuitive so that non-net users can cope, together with the need to find new forms of advertising revenue tailored to a net access medium that is not constrained by current 'sticky site' marketing paradigms. As a final point, BT does not see WAP technology replacing existing Web access systems but rather as one element within a provider's multimedia service portfolio.