NASA-Industry Alliance Initiates UAV National Airspace Access Project
May 20, 2004
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A new NASA-led project intended to eventually enable remotely or autonomously operated aircraft to fly safely and routinely with other aircraft within the national airspace system is being initiated this month.
The project, known as HALE ROA in the NAS, brings together NASA, the Department of Defense, the Federal Aviation Administration, and six aerospace firms with a direct interest in development of civil as well as military uses of uncrewed aircraft – Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, AeroVironment, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and Aurora Flight Sciences. The six companies form the UAV National Industry Team, the industry association that first proposed forming a strategic alliance between government and industry to open the national airspace to high-altitude, long-endurance remotely operated aircraft (HALE ROA) on a routine basis.
Such aircraft, commonly known as unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs, have been limited primarily to flying in restricted military operational or test areas, and the minimal use of UAVs in civil airspace in recent years has been tightly controlled on a case-by-case basis to avoid conflict with conventionally piloted aircraft. The primary issue of flying remotely or autonomously operated aircraft mixed in with conventionally controlled aircraft is one of flight safety – guaranteeing that UAVs can be flown with an equivalent level of safety as planes flown by on-board pilots.
“We intend to recommend the policies, procedures, and functional requirements that will ensure HALE UAVs operate as safely as other routine users of the national airspace system,” said Jeff Bauer, NASA's HALE ROA in the NAS project manager. "We will initially be limiting our focus to UAVs that routinely operate above 40,000 feet altitude. As we gain experience, we intend to expand our focus to UAVs that routinely fly above 18,000 feet.”
HALE ROA in the NAS is funded as part of NASA's Vehicle Systems Program in the agency's Aeronautics Enterprise, with a planned budget of about $103 million through fiscal year 2008. Project officials believe that funding level will allow the first two steps of a four-step process to be achieved within about five years. First-year funding of about $8.4 million is being used primarily for detailed planning and validation of requirements for UAVs to fly above 40,000 feet altitude.
"Through an extraordinary effort, representatives from government and industry spent four months developing a detailed project plan," Bauer added. "The plan will be implemented in phases over several years as resources are made available."
Project officials anticipate using a range of HALE UAVs such as the remotely operated Altair, Perseus B and Pathfinder-Plus, the autonomously operated Global Hawk and piloted aircraft such as the Proteus to conduct flight demonstrations of various procedures and capabilities as they are developed. The choice of aircraft would depend on the most economical and appropriate method of accomplishing the test being conducted.
The Defense Department and the FAA will participate in HALE ROA in the NAS under separate interagency agreements. The Defense Department is expected to leverage much of its technology being developed for military applications for use in ensuring safe UAV operations in civilian airspace. That department operates most of the UAVs in use today and sponsors several UAV aircraft and subsystem technology development programs.
The FAA is considered to be the most vital stakeholder in the project, since it is responsible for overall safety, security and efficiency of the national airspace system. FAA representatives will serve as advisors to HALE ROA in the NAS, and much of the data and analysis developed by the project will eventually make its way to the FAA following appropriate review by national airspace system interest groups.
Although managed at NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, NASA’s Ames, Glenn and Langley Research Centers are contributing their expertise to HALE ROA in the NAS. Ames is assisting in simulation of the national airspace traffic management system and air traffic controller support tools, Glenn in reliable command, communication and control systems, and Langley in reliability and certification issues.
“HALE ROA in the NAS is part of NASA’s focus on enabling HALE UAV technology for civil applications,” said NASA's Rich Wlezien, who heads the Vehicle Systems Program. “NASA is taking a three-part approach to enabling the civil application of HALE technology. We are working advanced vehicle capabilities, mission tailoring that includes the integration of advanced sensor suites, and through HALE ROA in the NAS, integration into the national airspace system. NASA is striving to develop a balanced, crosscutting approach to HALE UAVs,” he added.
HALE ROA in the NAS was kicked off recently with the signing of a Joint Sponsored Research Agreement by officials of NASA and the six aerospace firms. The agreement is patterned after a similar pact that governed NASA's recently concluded Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology (ERAST) project.
Bauer drew a distinction between HALE ROA in the NAS and the ERAST project, which focused on development of airframe, propulsion and control system technologies for high-altitude, long-endurance UAVs that could serve as platforms for NASA's Earth Science Enterprise.
"As a result of ERAST and continuing government investments in UAVs, industry began to identify a potential market for these vehicles," Bauer noted. "Achieving the significant public benefit that could come from that market requires opening the National Aerospace to HALE UAVs - that's the focus of HALE ROA in the NAS."
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