Lone Star UAS Center partners for border, forest fire protection

By Emily Aasand | May 14, 2015

The Lone Star Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center (LSUASC) of Excellence and Innovation has announced collaboration with NASA, the Texas A&M Forest Service and U.S. Customs and Border Protection at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi to use unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for Texas’ borders, skies, and fire prevention efforts.

The center’s collaboration with NASA hopes to address many operational and technical challenges, including separation and collision avoidance. The two entities will work to test a system that coordinates and monitors small UAS flights at altitudes less than 500 feet by aircraft operating beyond visual line-of-sight.

“Camber Corporation, our lead systems integrator, has recruited a team of top-notch software and systems-integration engineers for the test site program,” said Luis Cifuentes, vice president for research, commercialization and outreach and interim executive director of the LSUASC. “They have paved the way for A&M-Corpus Christi and the LSUASC to participate in this nationally significant project with NASA.”

Testing, which is expected to begin in August, hopes to link existing LSUASC test ranges, the Mission Control Center, mobile mission control centers, and a live and constructive simulation environment to the NASA system.

Fire Monitoring

The Texas A&M Forest Service recently completed an exercise that established a video link to send flight-test video between the service’s operations center in College Station and the Lone Star Center’s Mission Control in Corpus Christi. The goal is to integrate communications between the two entities to assure data remotely generated using UAS supports the forest service’s mission of fire detection, prevention and suppression, the center said.

The forest service’s emergency operations center in College Station monitors fire risk, fire incidents and the availability and use of firefighting equipment and personnel across the state.

“This exercise was preliminary to building out to a full communications capability for collaborative operations with the Forest Service,” said Jerry Hendrix, chief engineer for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration UAS test site operated by LSUASC. “At capacity, we will be able to support the agency’s UAS flight operations with full situational awareness, just as we do on our test ranges.”

Border Patrol

LSUASC and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection have begun collaborating on various unmanned aircraft scenarios to assist in surveillance operations.

“We are required to operate our test site with utmost safety,” said Cifuentes. “Our safety concerns coalesce with those of our CBP neighbors. We believe our information sharing and collaboration will continue to be productive and in the public interest.”

CBP operates a high-altitude MQ-9 remotely-piloted aircraft to conduct surveillance operations along the U.S.-Mexico border. As LSUASC develops its capabilities to monitor commercial and aviation traffic, work with the Border Protection facility adds an additional layer of situational awareness and safety to test site operations.

“Our plans include sharing technologies and information to de-conflict traffic and promote even greater flight situational awareness,” Cifuentes added. “It’s all part of our mandate to help the FAA ensure safe integration of UAS into the national airspace system.”


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