NASA completes third phase of UAS airspace testing

March 26, 2018  - By

The Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems (NIAS) and its NASA Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) partners flew multiple unmanned aerial systems over a week-long testing period at the Nevada UAS Test Site at the Reno-Stead Airport.

NASA UTM Testing. Credit: NIAS. (PRNewsfoto/Nevada Institute for Autonomous)

This third phase of NASA’s UAS testing (TCL 3) again focused on airspace management technologies that will enable the safe integration of UAS into the national airspace.

NASA provided a Flight Information Management System (FIMS) research platform that will serve as a future prototype system for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to use to coordinate with unmanned service suppliers operating throughout the nation.

Research areas of emphasis during the testing included UAS ground-control interfacing to locally manage operations, communication, navigation, surveillance, human factors, data exchange, network solutions and beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) architecture.

On media day, a team from the Reno Fire Department simulated an incident with a victim experiencing severe blood loss and who needed an immediate transfusion. A multi-rotor UAS from Drone America was equipped with a container that held an actual packet of blood to be transported via drone in Nevada.

High winds and frigid temperatures tested both the drone and those on the ground, but the drone successfully landed in the designated landing area so that firefighters could retrieve the blood packet and begin the faux-transfusion.

The partners not only demonstrated drone flight capability, but also tested UAS traffic mapping and sensor and radar technology, all of which were connected through a NASA UAS Service Supplier (USS) network to NASA Ames.

Technology Capability Levels

NASA’s near-term goal is the development and demonstration of a possible future UTM system that could safely enable low-altitude airspace and UAS operations. Working alongside many committed government, industry and academic partners, NASA is leading the research, development and testing that is taking place in a series of activities called “Technology Capability Levels (TCL)”, each increasing in complexity.

UTM TCL1 concluded field testing in August 2015 and is undergoing additional testing at an FAA site. Technologies in this activity addressed operations for agriculture, firefighting and infrastructure monitoring, with a focus on geofencing, altitude “rules of the road” and scheduling of vehicle trajectories.

UTM TCL2, completed in October 2016, leveraged TCL1 results and focused on beyond visual line-of-sight operations in sparsely populated areas. Researchers tested technologies that allowed dynamic adjustments to availability of airspace and contingency management.

UTM TCL3, just completed, leveraged TCL2 results and focused on testing technologies that maintain safe spacing between cooperative (responsive) and non-cooperative (non-responsive) UAS over moderately populated areas.

UTM TCL4, with dates to be determined, will leverage TCL3 results and focus on UAS operations in higher density urban areas for tasks such as news gathering and package delivery. It will also test technologies that could be used to manage large-scale contingencies.

NASA’s UTM technologies research and development is taking place in collaboration with the FAA. Results of research in the form of airspace integration requirements are expected to be transferred from NASA to the FAA in 2019 for the FAA’s further testing.

“Advanced flight and highly technical scenarios like drone detection, surveillance of critical infrastructure aerial package delivery of critical first responder medical supplies, to the important NASA data interoperability protocols that will eventually form the backbone of the UTM system, we focused heavily on communications, navigation and surveillance to produce critical data for the NASA TCL 3 Campaign,” said Chris Walach, the senior director of NIAS and the FAA-designated Nevada UAS Test Site. “Our Nevada teammates did an amazing job working together to successfully complete the first series of major testing for NASA’s TCL 3 Campaign.”

About the Author: Tracy Cozzens

Senior Editor Tracy Cozzens joined GPS World magazine in 2006. She also is editor of GPS World’s newsletters and the sister website Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.