EXCLUSIVE: NASA investigates airspace challenges that huge rise in drone sales will bring

As the doors opened at the Commercial UAV Show in London this morning, NASA Ames’ research aerospace engineer from its Aviation Systems division, Dr Marcus Johnson, took to the stage to kick off proceedings at the fourth annual trade show.

During his keynote speech this morning, Johnson outlined the findings of flight testing operations, impact of weather fluctuation and the company’s work in US airspace.

Johnson discussed the implications of expanding NASA’s UAV operations as the company is looking to host more than one aerial system in an area of airspace.

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He said: “The FA put out a forecast on the number of UASs that are expected to be purchase by 2020, it was forecast about a year ago that they’re looking at about seven million purchased and 26 million being used by commercial use. What this translates into is an influx of UASs that will be utilising the airspace and these are the larger low altitude operations.

“We are expecting to see tens of thousands of systems in the same airspace. One solution we are looking into at NASA is in air traffic management systems.”

NASA Ames’ work, which is geared towards mass fleets of UAVs, as opposed to single flight operations, has led to the development of Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Traffic Management (UTM), an automated, cloud-based system.

UTM is being developed as currently there is no established infrastructure to enable and safely manage the widespread use of low-altitude airspace and UAS operations, regardless of the type of UAS, in America.

NASA is researching prototype technologies for a UTM system that could develop airspace integration requirements for enabling safe, efficient low-altitude operations.

The company carried out flight operation tests  in Nevada in October as part of the development of UTM. The test, which five projects were carried out, tested unmanned systems, both in and out of optic range and up to altitudes of 500ft.

During the test period NASA observed the impacts of fluctuating weather. The aviation body found that over the course of the five tests, hotter climates results in higher density altitude, which would cause aerial systems to make unplanned landings and not make it back to base. While Johnson found that some instances of unplanned landing were due to weather impact, he acknowledges that there was a margin of operating error.

Tags : AirspaceDr Marcus Johnsonlow level airspaceNASANASA AmesUASUAV
Emma Calder

The author Emma Calder

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