NASA Development of Small UAS (sUAS) Technologies

Modus Robotics recently submitted a technical, Phase I proposal to NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program office.

The SBIR program targets small businesses that are seeking federal funding to develop and mature emerging technology innovations.  Our Small Atmospheric Sensing Aircraft (SASA) Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) is a proposed technology innovation concept that has the potential to revolutionize how atmospheric data is collected both in the United States and abroad.

Small UAS (sUAS) are enjoying an explosion in development and use in commercial, research, education, and government applications.  The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently published regulations for the use of sUAS within the National Airspace System (NAS).  The most exciting aspect of Modus Robotic’s SASA concept is that it combines the newest in sUAS technology with legacy processes to provide a significantly improved and enhanced atmospheric data-gathering platform.  Moreover, the combination of cutting-edge and legacy technologies would result in a substantial cost savings, yet simultaneously provide the means to gather substantially more data.

NASA is currently developing the Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) system to manage sUAS flying at or below 400 feet within the NAS.  The SASA sUAS concept could be an integral piece in demonstrating the safe operation of sUAS well above 400 feet by synergistically combining advanced technologies such as Global Position System (GPS), Automatic Dependence Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), computer vision, advanced sense and avoid, and autonomous flight systems.  Modus Robotics firmly believes that sUAS operations will inevitably surpass the current 400 foot barrier when a system, such as SASA, can prove to be an extremely safer and cost-effective platform.  We are very excited about the SASA sUAS concept and look forward to continuing the development of this revolutionary platform.

Technical Abstract:

Significance: Development of small UAS (sUAS) technologies and concepts of operation (CONOP) for use in the National Airspace System (NAS) is ongoing. Two key challenges for sUAS are: 1) generally limited to an altitude of 400 feet, and 2) no operations beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS). Modus Robotics has defined this project to conduct research, design and development of a sUAS that incorporates state-of-the-art UAS technologies (tech) to safely operate and collect data, facilitating a more comprehensive integration of sUAS into the NAS. Our proposed sUAS would contribute significantly to weather and climate research, and expand sUAS operations for commercial applications.

Hypothesis: Our engineering analyses indicate that the selection and integration of sUAS tech can produce a capable, affordable, and exceptionally safe sUAS that can operate in the NAS above 400 feet, ascending in compliance with CFR Part 101 requirements and descending as a guided sUAS. Our CONOPS includes cooperative multi-UAS operations with minimal human oversight, advanced perception, cognition and decision-making, and secure and reliable communications capabilities.

Preliminary Analysis: In controlled airspace, sUAS gliders have succeeded in operating safely from 0 to ~100,000 feet, while. These sUAS demonstrated integration of tech to achieve automated flight, recovery, and collect vital atmospheric data, but did not use advanced tech required to fly safely in the NAS.

Primary Objective (Obj): Assess and select sUAS hardware (HW) tech suitable for a novel, compact sUAS design that can operate safely in the NAS from 0 to ~100,000 feet. Obj 1: Evaluate and select sUAS HW and software (SW) tech for a design that supports our hypothesis. Obj 2: Develop a CONOP that defines the logical linking and operation of all system components. Obj 3: Develop a CONOP for the Human Machine Interface (HMI) system, describing how it will create synergy between human operators monitoring/controlling SASA.

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