Government // Enterprise Architecture
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12/22/2011
12:54 PM
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NASA Sees Drones Flying In U.S. Airspace

Space agency hires contract to develop communications systems to allow unmanned aerial vehicles to safely fly alongside manned aircraft.

NASA's Next Mission: Deep Space
NASA's Next Mission: Deep Space
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Known chiefly for military work, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) may one day be flying alongside other aircraft in commercial U.S. airspace, thanks to a project by NASA.

The space agency has tapped Rockwell Collins to build a communications datalink that will safely allow UAVs to share national airspace as a subproject of its larger Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the National Airspace System project (UAS in the NAS).

As part of the team on the three-year NASA UAS Communications Research Sub-Project, the contractor will help build a control and non-payload communications datalink that will help industry and the Federal Aviation Administration develop rules and requirements for the safe and reliable operation of UAVs in U.S. airspace, according to Rockwell Collins. The financial terms of the contract were not disclosed.

Communications is one of five subprojects NASA is focused on to allow for UAVs to join U.S. airspace. The others are: separation assurance, human systems integration, certification, and integrated tests and evaluation. More about the project can be found on NASA's website.

[ Government IT deployments suffered security snafus, fraud fiascoes, budget breakdowns, and more over the past year. See Top 10 Government IT Flops Of 2011. ]

NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center is leading the UAS project, which is designed to reduce the barriers to allowing UAVs to share airspace with piloted aircraft.

NASA and other agencies envision other, non-military uses for UAVs, such as to assist in emergency and life-saving activities.

In addition to making U.S. airspace safe for UAV flight, the federal government also has been experimenting with new ways to remotely control the crafts as well, including through iPhones and other smartphone technology.

In one research focus area, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is seeking mobile application developers to improve its creation of sensors for UAVs and other military surveillance, reconnaissance, and intelligence vehicles.

How 10 federal agencies are tapping the power of cloud computing--without compromising security. Also in the new, all-digital InformationWeek Government supplement: To judge the success of the OMB's IT reform efforts, we need concrete numbers on cost savings and returns. Download our Cloud In Action issue of InformationWeek Government now. (Free registration required.)

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