Regional
8:32 am
Thu December 19, 2013

Texas Competes For Drone Testing Facility

  When the FAA announces its designation of six federal unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) test sites, the Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi UAS Command and Control Center will be ready to track and control the aircraft from anywhere in the state.  Phase two of the implementation of the center was completed this week by the LSUASC staff, including Camber Corporation and A&M-Corpus Christi personnel, with the installation of NASA’s World Wind World Viewer, situational awareness command and control software, and a commercial autopilot software package.

 “All of the technology that we are packing into the Command and Control Center is coming together and being integrated so we can be open for business, with our test site, at the beginning of 2014,” said Dr. Ron George, Senior Research Development Officer.

The test sites will facilitate testing and research of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) technologies to provide scientific data on the future integration of these aircraft safely with other air traffic.  Congress mandated that UAS be integrated into the national airspace by 2015.     The University’s Lone Star Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center (LSUASC) proposal is the only one from Texas being considered by the FAA, and has the backing of Texas Governor Rick Perry.  

University officials began working on the proposal earlier this year and say our Command and Control Center is what sets our proposal apart from others.  Click here for video

“It was built from scratch for the specific purpose of controlling UAS in our test ranges,” said George.

Many other proponents to this program are relying on established operational control from military installations.

“According to the request for proposal, the FAA wants the test sites to be independent of the military control and military-restricted airspace,” said George.  “Our proposal doesn’t rely on using restricted airspace to do our testing and it doesn’t rely on military facilities to do our command and control.”

The LSUASC Command and Control Center is located on the top floor of the Coastal Bend Business Innovation Center.  Along with the new software that was installed, the center is now capable of receiving UAS streaming video over a wireless phone service and via commercial satellite. The next phases will implement communication with mobile operations centers that will be located on 11 test ranges in various parts of the state and, eventually, the center will have the ability to take control of and fly the unmanned aircraft at a moment’s notice.

Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi has been researching UAS for about two years, looking at ways to use UAS for mapping sea grass, detecting oil spills and hotspots in wild fires, monitoring hurricanes, and herd counting for ranchers. Click here for high resolution photos.  The Command and Control Center is an important part of that research and will be needed even if the University is not picked as one the federal test sites.

The FAA decision is expected by the end of December. This historic decision will have huge financial implications for the entire state of Texas, especially South Texas.  The Association of Unmanned Vehicles International published an economic impact study in March projecting, once airspace is opened to UAS, the economic impact would be about $8 billion statewide, and $260 million in South Texas over the next 10 years; creating about 1,200 jobs.

 Along with the Camber Corporation, A&M-Corpus Christi collaborated with the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station, the University of Texas Arlington Research Institute, the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, and other research institutions and private-sector companies to form the statewide team that produced the test site proposal presented to the FAA.