NASA commences UAS sense-and-avoid tests

By Patrick C. Miller | June 25, 2015

Flight testing of sense-and-avoid technology for unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and a conference on managing UAS traffic are among the activities being conducted by NASA this summer.  

From mid-June through July, the agency’s project on UAS Integration in the National Airspace System (NAS) will conduct flight testing of sense-and-avoid technology at the NASA Armstrong Fight Research Center in California. These flights will conduct the first full test of an automatic collision avoidance capability on autonomous aircraft.

Participating in the tests are the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. and Honeywell International Inc.

"This is the first time that we are flight testing all of the technology developments from the project at the same time," said Laurie Grindle, UAS-NAS project manager at Armstrong.

July 28-30 at Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, NASA and the Silicon Valley chapter of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) are partnering to cosponsor the 2015 UAS Traffic Management Convention: A New Era in Aviation.

Convention speakers include NASA and FAA executives, as well as industry thought leaders, innovators and stakeholders. Exhibits and flight demonstrations will feature the latest developments in unmanned aerial systems technology and how it will impact the future of low-altitude flight.

“Today, we see the need to establish a safe low altitude unmanned aerial traffic management system,” said Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator of NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate in Washington. “Bringing together a broad spectrum of people interested in UAS technology will help us develop a well-coordinated plan that will guide us in the future.”

Attendees will discuss the latest developments in unmanned aerial systems technology, solutions for privacy concerns and issues, safety and security, and the future impact of low-altitude flight on the emerging business sector. Sessions and demonstrations will examine the crossover between research, development and air traffic management, and highlight the latest issues, advancements and opportunities in the aviation industry.

The sense-and-avoid flight tests at Armstrong are the third in a series of tests building on similar experiments conducted late last year to demonstrate a proof-of-concept sense-and-avoid system. The tests engage the core air traffic infrastructure and supporting software components through a live and virtual environment to demonstrate how an autonomous aircraft interacts with air traffic controllers and other air traffic.

"Our researchers and project engineers will be gathering a substantial amount of data to validate their pilot maneuver guidance and alerting logic that has previously been evaluated in simulations," said Heather Maliska, Armstrong's UAS-NAS deputy project manager.

There are two phases to the tests. The first focuses on validation of sensor, trajectory and other simulation models using live data. Some tests will be flown with a NASA’s Ikhana unmanned aerial vehicle equipped with an updated sense-and-avoid system. The system includes a new traffic collision avoidance program and other advanced software from Honeywell.

The second phase involves an S-3B aircraft from NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, serving as a high-speed piloted surrogate aircraft. Both tests will use other aircraft following scripted flight paths to intrude on the flight path the autonomous craft is flying, prompting it to either issue an alert or maneuver out of the other aircraft's path.


For more on the UAS Industry, follow us on Twitter @UASMagazine