Large aircrafts toting passengers from one destination to another follow an air traffic system that keeps them safe as they travel through the national airspace system. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, pilots, who are flying from Los Angeles to Baltimore, will talk to around 28 air traffic controllers in 11 different facilities across the United States. Each day, the FAA provides this service to tens of thousands of aircrafts.
Drones, or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), aren’t like aircrafts. Their surge in popularity is recent, with proliferation in both the public and private sector. Their utilization as delivery systems is on the cusp of becoming a reality. But much work has to be accomplished before that becomes the norm. Working to anticipate these changes are the FAA and NASA.
This week, they conducted the largest test of NASA’s UAS traffic management (UTM) research platform. The test consisted of 24 drones flying simultaneously at six different FAA UAS test site locations around the country.
The test sites were located in Fairbanks, Ala.; Grand Forks, N.D.; Reno, Nev.; Rome, N.Y.; Blacksburg, Va.; Bushwood, Md.; and Corpus Christi, Texas.
“UTM is designed to enable safe low-altitude civilian UAS operations by providing pilots information needed to maintain separation from other aircraft by reserving areas for specific routes, with consideration of restricted airspace and adverse weather conditions,” said project lead Parimal Kopadekar in a statement following an initial test of the system in the fall.
During the fall test, the drone pilots would submit their operation plans and positions to the UTM system for approval. The UTM system checked the airspace for conflicts and tracked the drones.
To make the drone management system a reality, NASA is researching a variety of technologies in airspace design, dynamic geofencing, congestion management, and terrain avoidance.
According to Popular Science, the agency needed only 16 of the drones to work with the system to count the test as a success. However, all 24 worked.
“Research results in the form of airspace integration requirements are expected to be transferred from NASA to the FAA in 2019 for their further testing,” according to the agency.
In the interim, NASA plans on testing the system in high-density urban areas for tasks including news gathering and package delivery, among other tests scheduled over the next three years.
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