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Integrity flies on Mars, while ‘certifiable’ drone level sought in the United States

This month, the four-pound Integrity dual-rotor UAV on Mars continues to fly and may be moving into a scouting role. Plus, there are continuing efforts to move UAV electronics towards a “certifiable” level to support integration in regular airspace. Finally, a newly launched parcel delivery drone has increased carrying capacity.

The excitement around flying an unmanned helicopter on Mars is gradually dissipating as Ingenuity racks up more flights and the NASA team prepares for an elongated flight schedule following the initial 30-day flying experiment. Data from the Martian UAV passes back and forth through the Perseverance rover, which now has things of its own to do and places to go. An initial 30-foot crawl a couple of days ago signaled the beginning of the rover’s ground activities, which are the main focus of the mission.

However, the little UAV has achieved plenty and appears to have lots of life left to fly. We’re now up to five flights, with the latest taking Ingenuity more than 420 feet, flying at a height of 15 feet to a new landing spot, ahead of where the rover intends to travel.

Before landing, NASA took the UAV up to 33 feet, where future flights should be able to better view features for the rover to investigate. Integrity’s role may now transition to scouting an advance path for rover exploration — one of the principle objectives for the little UAV.

A tiny speck in the distance, NASA Ingenuity UAV flies on Mars looking for a new landing spot during its fourth flight. (Photo: NASA)

A tiny speck in the distance, NASA’s Ingenuity UAV flies on Mars looking for a new landing spot during its fourth flight. (Photo: NASA)

NASA is planning a few additional trips for Integrity in the next week or so — adequate power is being captured by the top-mounted solar cell to fly and keep the vehicle warm through the cold Mars nights, and the miniaturized avionics systems are holding up well. Hopefully, we will still hear of new accomplishments in weeks to come. Incidentally, Perseverance can now capture the sound of the UAV’s spinning blades and the background wind on the surface of Mars.

FAA certification for drones

News here on Earth is about much more capable unmanned vehicles, new innovations and new applications, and efforts seem to be gaining ground toward certifying UAS and their systems to recognized Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) standards, so integration into the National Airspace System (NAS) might roll out sooner than expected.

When a manufacturer produces an electronic component and qualifies it to the necessary FAA standards, it does not automatically make it a certified product. It only becomes certified on a particular model of aircraft or UAV when the vehicle is certified for operational use by the FAA. There are similar standards and certification requirements in Europe and around the rest of the world.

Enter George

Photo: uAvionix

Photo: uAvionix

uAvionics in Leesburg, Virginia, recently launched a new certifiable UAS autopilot — with the cute name of “George.” As older aviation enthusiasts might recall, this moniker was what the World War II pilots of long-range piston engine bombers sometimes called their rudimentary autopilots, which held wings level on long-endurance flights.

With triplex gyros and accelerometers, dual processors and compasses, and a barometer, the unit is lightweight and low power, but has been developed to all the principal aviation requirements, including software and environmental standards.

George joins uAvionics’ line of other aviation qualified/certifiable hardware for UAVs. This includes the ping200X ADS-B for beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) detect and avoid, and the trueFYX TSO-C145e certified GPS receiver.

Seeking Certification

Sagetech in White Salmon, Washington, is another supplier working hard toward certifiable equipment for unmanned aircraft. Sagetech’s detect-and-avoid (DAA) solution makes use of its ADS-B transponder, which can be paired with other airborne collision avoidance system (ACAS) components.

Sagetech offers a design engineering service to enable UAV operators and manufacturers to come up with a certifiable solution while FAA standards are still being developed.

Sagetech ADS-B certifiable transponder/Mode-S interrogator. (Photo: Sagetech)

Sagetech ADS-B certifiable transponder/Mode-S interrogator. (Photo: Sagetech)

Embention in Alicante, Spain, also advertises several certifiable autopilots, power and control components for unmanned aircraft. It manufactures a variety of Nmand-branded UAVs along with multi-rotor UAV solutions, including a drone recharging station.

Three times the cargo

Meanwhile, drone-delivery capability continues to advance with the recent introduction of the certifiable Wingcopter 198.

The Wingcopter 198 drop-winch cargo drone. (Photo: Wingcopter)

The Wingcopter 198 drop-winch cargo drone. (Photo: Wingcopter)

The vertical-take-off-and-landing (VTOL) delivery drone has a triple-drop winch mechanism that allows for delivery of up to three packages per flight. The UAV takes off and lands vertically, thanks to its tilt-rotor design, and can carry a payload of up to 13 pounds. It can travel up to 47 miles on one electrical charge at up to 93 mph; with fewer packages, a range of up to 68 miles may be possible.

The VTOL UAV has redundant design elements that position it to support FAA certification. It has eight redundant motors. Also, the autopilot, airspeed sensor and battery are dual redundant. Consequently, the Wingcopter 198 is undergoing FAA-type certification in the United States.

The Wingcopter 198 also has artificially aided downward-looking cameras to support management of parcel delivery, as well as obstacle avoidance and landing.

To sum up, life may not yet be over for the Integrity UAV on Mars as it moves into a route-scouting role for the rover. There is more progress toward certifiable configurations of equipment to support unmanned integration into the NAS. Finally, last-mile parcel deliveries could benefit from higher capacity certified drone carriers.

Tony Murfin
GNSS Aerospace

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