Lockheed Martin Set To Make Seed-Sized Spy Plane - InformationWeek

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Lockheed Martin Set To Make Seed-Sized Spy Plane

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has awarded Lockheed Martin a $1.7 million, 10-month contract to design a remotely controlled nano air vehicle capable of collecting military intelligence both indoors and in urban outdoor environments.

LONDON — The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded Lockheed Martin a $1.7-million, 10-month contract to design a remotely controlled nano air vehicle (NAV) that is capable of collecting military intelligence both indoors and in urban outdoor environments.

Although described as a Nano the NAV is not nanometer in scale, instead it is likely to be about 1.5-inches long and similar in size and shape to a maple tree seed, according to Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Laboratories (ATL), which has been contracted to lead the design team.

The team includes Lockheed Martin Advanced Development Programs, Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center, Sandia National Laboratories, AeroCraft, ATK Thiokol and the University of Pennsylvania.

Plans call for a chemical rocket enclosed in the NAV's single wing to be able to deliver a sensor payload module more than 1000 yards from the point of release. Besides controlling lift and pitch, the wing will also house telemetry, communications, navigation, imaging sensors, and battery power. The NAV will be about 1.5 inches long and have a maximum takeoff weight of about 0.35 ounces, Lockheed Martin (Bethesda, Md.) said in a press release.

Lockheed Martin said a remote pilot would be able to fly the NAV towards its target by viewing its flight path through a camera embedded in the wing with images transmitted wireless back to the operative. As the system is developed Lockheed Martin expects an autopilot to be included aboard the NAV to provide limited autonomous operations. Once the NAV delivers its payload, it will return to base for collection and refurbishment.

"The challenges are both exciting and daunting, because some of the technologies vital to our success have yet to be discovered," said James Marsh, ATL director, in a statement. "We know going in that we need some of the best minds in manufacturing technology and in the development and integration of highly sophisticated, software- driven control technologies and mission systems."

The $1.7 million contract is intended to fund design of prototypes for the engine, the airframe, the flight control system, and the communications system as well as computer models of the guidance system and sensors.

A preliminary design review is planned for summer 2007. After a sequence of go/no-go tests, DARPA may fund an additional 18-month period during which Lockheed Martin would design and test a flying prototype.

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