The Lone Star Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center (LSUASC) of Excellence and Innovation at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi is collaborating with NASA, the Texas A&M Forest Service, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi.
Research collaboration with state and federal government agencies is a major piece of LSUASC’s plan for financial sustainability, according to the LSUASC, which adds that each of these partnerships focuses on a significant slice of UAS integration and technological application. The LSUASC operates one of six Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-designated test sites for UAS.
The collaboration with NASA seeks to address many operational and technological challenges, including separation and collision avoidance. Working with NASA, the center will support testing a system that coordinates and monitors small UAS flights at altitudes under 500 feet.
Testing, which is expected to begin in August, involves simulations of a rural, low-density traffic scenario. The goal is to link existing LSUASC test ranges; the Mission Control Center; mobile mission control centers; and a live, virtual and constructive simulation environment to the NASA system. This will enable collaborative research in a realistic environment with academic, industry and government collaborators, says LSUASC.
Through the partnership with the Texas A&M Forest Service, the LSUASC is looking to integrate communications between the two groups to assure data remotely generated using UAS supports the forest service’s mission of fire detection, prevention and suppression.
“At capacity, we will be able to support the agency’s UAS flight operations with full situational awareness, just as we do on our test ranges,” says Jerry Hendrix, chief engineer for the FAA UAS test site operated by the LSUASC.
The LSUASC and the CBP are jointly addressing unmanned aircraft operational scenarios. The Texas border region has complex airspace requirements for state, commercial and general aviation and also serves as a major flight training area for the U.S. Navy and Air Force.
As the LSUASC develops its capabilities to monitor commercial and aviation traffic, working with the CBP facility adds an additional layer of situational awareness and safety to test site operations, the center says.
“Our plans include sharing technologies and information to de-conflict traffic and promote even greater flight situational awareness,” says Luis Cifuentes, vice president for research, commercialization and outreach, as well as interim executive director, of the LSUASC. “It’s all part of our mandate to help the FAA ensure safe integration of UAS into the national airspace system.”
In addition to working with these agencies, the LSUASC is also talking with other state and federal agencies.
“Working with state and federal agencies is a major component of our plan to build and sustain the LSUASC as we fulfill our obligation to FAA to operate a safe UAS test site,” adds Cifuentes. “We have a great opportunity here to support a national initiative as we build a research center that benefits the state, this institution and – most importantly – future generations of Texas students.”