Partners at North Dakota UAS Test Site Working Toward BVLOS Operations


Altavian Inc., a manufacturer of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and components, is working with Northern Plains UAS Test Site (NPUASTS) in North Dakota to help test NASA’s unmanned traffic management (UTM) system.

Altavian and NPUASTS, one of seven Federal Aviation Administration UAS test sites in the U.S., will work to develop technology related to UTM while a third partner, iSight RPV Services, will provide flight test services for the project on the Nova F7200 small UAS (sUAS).

NASA has been working with partners in the sUAS industry to develop a UTM system that can help safely integrate drones into national airspace. A UTM is considered an integral part to regulating drones on a national level, as well as establishing beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations, says Altavian.

Specifically, Altavian is working to develop dual communication systems for the Nova F7200 sUAS. Point-to-point radio frequency communication is the most common method for sUAS-to-operator communication and is in use by nearly every drone, according to the company. This technology is well-suited for high-rate aircraft telemetry or payload links (such as HD video) but has limitations when the sUAS is flown further away from the operator. By implementing a satellite link, the sUAS will be able to send low-rate telemetry messages back and forth to the operator anywhere in the world and will no longer be limited in range by local radio frequency, says Altavian.

In parallel, Altavian will be updating its ground control station software, Flare, to communicate with the updated UTM system. Altavian and NPUASTS previously conducted flight tests with Technical Capability Level 1 in early 2016. These upcoming tests will be the third iteration of the UTM system. By integrating Flare with the new UTM system, NASA will be able to see where Altavian aircraft are at all times during testing.

According to the company, the technology being developed could prove invaluable in preparing Altavian sUAS for BVLOS operations in the future. The project will run from now into March and April.

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