December 22, 2011

Rockwell Collins and NASA working together for allowing Unmanned Aerial Systems to operate in civil airspace


News Report

As announced in a recent press release, Rockwell Collins is collaborating with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to develop an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) control and non-payload communications (CNPC) data link that will eventually enable unmanned aircraft to safely operate in the national airspace.

As a team member in the three-year NASA UAS Communications Research Sub-Project, Rockwell Collins will work closely with NASA engineers and subject matter experts to define the waveform for the CNPC data link. The results of this collaboration will help industry and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration develop the appropriate set of rules and requirements for reliable unmanned flight operations in the national U.S. airspace system.

The Technology

Current civil UAS operations are significantly constrained by the lack of a standardized, certified control and non-payload communications (CNPC) system. The UAS CNPC system is to provide communications functions between the Unmanned Aircraft (UA) and the UA ground control station for such applications as:
  • telecommands
  • non-payload telemetry
  • navigation aid data
  • air traffic control (ATC) voice relay
  • air traffic services (ATS) data relay
  • sense and avoid data relay
  • airborne weather radar data
  • non-payload situational awareness video

New and innovative approaches to providing terrestrial and space-based high-bandwidth CNPC systems that are inexpensive, small, low latency, reliable, and secure offer opportunities for quantum jumps in UAS utility and capabilities. Of particular interest are technologies for the enhancement/improvement of CNPC performance for UAS operations in urban locations, taking into account the propagation, reflection/refraction and shadowing/blockage environment encountered in the urban environment.

A prototype radio hardware is being designed and developed in order to validate and verify draft performance requirements by collecting performance data in relevant laboratory and flight environments. This prototype radio system is targeted for use in all UAS classes, from those weighing less than 55 lbs flying below 3,000 ft. up to and including those weighing greater than 1,320 lbs flying above 18,000 ft.

The primary focus is operations within the U.S. National Airspace System, but these systems should be capable of operations outside the U.S. The UAS C2 system is to support control and non-payload communications (CNPC) between the Unmanned Aircraft (UA) and the UA control station.

The Context

The goal for UAV introduction into the U.S. National Air Space is an equivalent level of safety, including collision avoidance for UAV operation, when compared to piloted aircraft. The goal is the certification of a system of technology, feedback, analysis and control, which reduces the risk of an air to air collision, to the same level of risk currently enjoyed for manned flight, is of paramount interest and importance.

In this contex, on last March 2011, NASA Glenn Research Center issued an RFI for potential sources and partners for the design and development of a Command and Control communication (C2) system prototype for unmanned aircraft. Even though both terrestrial and satellite based solutions are under consideration in the standards bodies, the focus of this effort was on a terrestrial system.

The intended partnership between NASA and one or more industry partners will jointly develop the design(s) to meet the requirements, develop prototype radio hardware, perform laboratory testing, and execute flight testing of the prototype radio system in relevant environment.

Comments

The reason we were selected is because we’re one of a few companies that have both commercial avionics experience and UAS data links in theater. It’s really the intersection of our core technologies,” said David Vos, senior director of UAS and Control Technologies at Rockwell Collins. “We know the challenges, we know how to certify avionics and we’re experts in military data links and waveform development.

References: Rockwell Collins (1), NASA (2), UAS Vision (3), UAV Market Space (4)

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