NASA’s $1.5 million Unmanned Aircraft Competition: Can You Make The Skies Safer?

By: | June 16th, 2013

NASA has so many missions it’s hard to keep track of them all: there is a directory listing current and future missions, a launch schedule and the history of past missions. In the coming months IndustryTap will begin reviewing missions and seeing how they fit into NASA’s vision.

As US states compete to become FAA drone test sites, others are working to help manage air traffic in this new age of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and make it safer after recent UAV crashes.

Air Traffic Control System Development

First up is NASA’s $1.5 million Unmanned Aircraft Competition (UAC). IndustryTap has covered plans on using unmanned vehicles for US domestic surveillance, commercial purposes, and military applications such as refueling with the expectation of thousands of unmanned vehicles filling the skies along with commercial aircraft as early as 2018.

In order to coordinate piloted and unpiloted aircraft operators will need new technologies integrated into the National Airspace System. The UAC program seeks to engage individuals, academics and the private sector in solving technical issues. The program will have two phases with the start scheduled for Spring 2014 and phase 2 after that.

Questions the Competition Will Try to Solve

There are three main areas where progress is needed: first, to ensure safe airspace operations through “separation assurance” technologies like ADS-B, the development of four dimensional trajectories and the design and engineering of new ground control operations systems. Second, is creating systems that are robust enough that failures such as loss link, GPS unavailability and unreliability are eliminated. Finally, engineers are expected to design software to help detect uncooperative air-traffic at the earliest possible moment.

The total prize money available for this competition in Phase 1 is $500,000. Complete rules for the competition can be found here.

David Russell Schilling

David enjoys writing about high technology and its potential to make life better for all who inhabit planet earth.

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