NASA Funds Prize To Advance Drone Integration

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NASA is providing a half-million-dollar prize for Phase 1 of a Centennial Challenge that aims to develop technology to help unmanned aircraft operate safely in the national airspace system, the agency has announced. The first phase of the UAS Airspace Operations Challenge will focus on safe airspace operations and robustness to system failures, NASA said. Competitors will need to demonstrate skills including separation from other aircraft using ADS-B, and respond to failures such as unreliable GPS or lost links. The first competition event is expected in May 2014. Phase 2 of the competition will focus on how to detect UAS that are not cooperating with the system.

The challenge is not expected to solve all the problems involved in integrating UAS into the NAS, but will take the technology "significantly closer to the goals embodied in the Next Gen Airspace Concept," NASA said. Prizes are awarded only after solutions are successfully demonstrated. Competitors in previous challenges have included private companies, student groups, and independent inventors working outside the traditional aerospace industry. NASA provides the prize purse for the Centennial Challenge program, but the competitions are managed by nonprofit partners who seek commercial and private sponsors to cover the cost of operations. Development Projects, a nonprofit group based in Dayton, Ohio, will administer the Phase 1 UAS challenge. Since 2005, NASA has awarded almost $6 million to 15 winners.