NASA

General Atomics partners with NASA for unmanned systems development

Improved satellite capabilities will open broader range for UAV flights

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center have partnered to develop and test new command and control satellite link capabilities on a Predator B unmanned aircraft system.

"With growing interest in using remotely piloted aircraft for civil missions, we expect our work with NASA to open the door for increased confidence in operating these aircraft in the National Airspace System," said Frank Pace, president of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems’ Aircraft Systems Group.

Under a no-cost Space Ace Agreement signed in September, NASA and General Atomics will upgrade the command and control system of NASA’s MQ-9 Predator B, which is named “Ikhana,” enabling aircraft operations in more remote geographical regions.

"The system improvements enabled by this agreement expand the utility of the Ikhana MQ-9 for NASA science and the development of technology required for unmanned air systems to fly in the national airspace," said David McBride, NASA Dryden center director. "Both are key national priorities that benefit from this government/industry cooperative effort."

Once upgraded, the aircraft will be used to conduct systems testing and evaluation flights, which will allow both partners to reach their goal of demonstrating this capability.

"This new capability will allow Ikhana to support NASA science missions at higher latitudes where many important geophysical processes must be studied," said Bob Curry, NASA Dryden chief scientist. "In recent years, unmanned aircraft have demonstrated transformational opportunities for Earth science airborne research, particularly due to their very long endurance capability. They can also reduce the need to expose aircrews to remote and unforgiving environments."

The flight research in which NASA is using the aircraft will pave the way for opening up the National Airspace System to unmanned aircraft systems operation, in addition to its role in advancing science, General Atomics said.

What comes next for Predator B is the summer 2013 Marginal Ice Zone Observations and Processes Experiment; NASA will provide the system and its engineering, technical and operational staff to support Ikhana’s mission to carry science instruments designed to investigate ice changes in the Arctic, General Atomics said.

About the Author

Mark Hoover is a staff writer with Washington Technology. You can contact him at mhoover@washingtontechnology.com, or connect with him on Twitter at @mhooverWT.

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