Nevada site to test UAS for monitoring radiation levels

By Patrick C. Miller | June 23, 2016

Taking radiation readings in situations too dangerous for humans can be included on the list of uses for unmanned aircraft systems UAS.

The Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) has added two Sandstorm UAS to a research and development program run by National Security Technologies (NST), a contractor that operates the site for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

“A UAS can be used in situations where manned aircraft may not be used safely,” said Jim Holt, NST president. “These small aerial platforms can be used at the NNSS for sensor development, as well as site security, environmental monitoring, radiological remote sensing and national security applications.”

Last April, representatives from 12 countries exchanged technical ideas and information on the use of UAS for emergency response and remediation missions. Japan provided information on the operational use of UAS for continuous monitoring after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant accident. As a part of a technical exchange, a UAS demonstration flight was conducted at the NNSS to display its capabilities.

Daniel Blumenthal, program manager of NNSA’s Consequence Management Program in Washington, D.C., said, "The ongoing aerial measurements collaboration between the United States and Japan after the 2011 Fukushima accident has demonstrated the expanded need for such measurements and the value of research into adding UAS-based methods to the well-established aerial measuring systems."

NNSS was selected for the research because of its potential as a testing, evaluation and training facility for UAS platforms. UAS activities have been conducted at the site by other federal and commercial entities as a part of a strategic partnership program in which NST is involved.

Nevada is also one of the six FAA-authorized UAS test sites. NNSS works with the Nevada Institute for Automatous Systems (NIAS) to further the UAS initiative in the state.

“The acquisition of the UAS platforms is a big step forward,” said Karen McCall, UAS program manager for NST. “In a few years, we will look back and realize how we have expanded our national mission. We are looking at a multi-modal approach for data fusion of a variety of sensor technologies from radiological, imagery and other interesting remote sensing systems.”

McCall said she expects the NSS team to be ready to conduct R&D UAS missions over the NNSS testing new technology by this fall.


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