NASA aims to let UAVs fly in civil airspace

NASA has tapped Rockwell Collins to help develop a communications data link that will allow unmanned aircraft to safely operate in U.S. commercial airspace.

The company will develop a control and non-payload communications (CPNC) data link as part of a three-year NASA unmanned aerial systems (UAS) sub-project. Rockwell Collins and NASA engineers will work together to develop a waveform for the CPNC data link. The results of this partnership will help industry and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) develop a set of rules and requirements for UAS flights over the United States, company officials said in a statement.

The CPNC data link work is part of NASA’s UAS Integration into the National Airspace project, which is working on five focus areas:

• Separation Assurance — assessing how UAS platforms will work (both autonomously and in ground-controlled mode) in the planned Next Generation Air Transportation System with a mix of manned aircraft.

• Communications — developing and validating secure and safety-critical command and control systems, along with frequency spectrum allocations, frequency regulations, standards and recommended practices for operational requirements for unmanned aircraft.

• Human Systems Integration — developing a research test bed and database to develop UAS ground control stations and guidelines for their operation.

• Certification — Establishing a set of FAA airworthiness guidelines for all UAS digital avionics and a UAS classification scheme.

• Integrated Tests and Evaluation — integrating and testing mature technical concepts and evaluating their performance in a relevant operational environment.

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