US: NASA has made unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) history with the help of all six U.S. Federal Aviation Administration UAS test sites. Working in conjunction with each test site, NASA has performed a flight and operations test of its unmanned traffic management system designed to incorporate UAS safely into the national airspace.
Operators outside NASA interacted with the UTM research platform, entering flight plans and planned operations from several geographically diverse locations, using various aircraft and software.Engineers at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California, monitored operations and system load and gathered qualitative feedback to identify capability gaps to further refine the UTM research.
“We didn’t have any testing problems today,” said Parimal Kopardekar, manager of NASA’s Safe Autonomous Systems Operations project and lead of NASA’s UTM efforts. “NASA extensively tested Technical Capability Level one and worked very closely with the FAA test sites, and the UTM research platform performed well. This test would not have been possible without the six FAA test sites – it was a collaborative effort to ensure a successful test.”
A total of 24 drones flew multiple times throughout the three-hour test, with 22 flying simultaneously at one point. The mission was declared successful, given the minimum success criteria of 16 simultaneous operations was achieved.
“After so much preparation and practice, it was very rewarding to see all test sites have success with weather, platforms and connectivity,” said Tony Basile, director of operations at NUAIR and New York test site manager. “It was additionally rewarding to hear from NASA that today’s efforts were successful on their end as well.”
Joseph Rios, flight test director and UTM technical lead explained, “NASA built the research platform and tested it on a local scale, but we needed the experience and expertise at each of the FAA test sites to exercise the platform in this geographically diverse way. Their efforts and skills in managing field deployments were pivotal to the success of this activity.”
Echoing that sentiment, Cathy Cahill, the director of the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in Fairbanks, said, “This mission demonstrated the technological advances that can be made when the expertise of NASA is combined with the capabilities of our nation’s UAS test sites.”
"We enjoyed working with the NASA UTM team to explore UAS air traffic management concepts through the UTM research platform,” said Richard C. Kelley, chief engineer for the Nevada Advanced Autonomous Systems Innovation Center at the University of Nevada, Reno. “The software performed wonderfully, providing much-needed data and pointing toward open questions for the research community to address as we work to safely integrate unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System."