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UTEP’s cSETR, City, County Team Up for Region’s First UAS Traffic Management System

The NASA MIRO Center for Space Exploration and Technology Research (cSETR) at The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) is setting the pace in a nationwide effort to improve low-altitude airspace safety.

Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) experts from cSETR are leading a team comprised of leaders from El Paso County, the City of El Paso, El Paso International Airport and many other local government entities that will install the country’s first countywide-area operational low-altitude UAS Traffic Management (UTM) system.

The University and community have teamed up with California-based AirMap, a global airspace management platform for drones, for this implementation.

A UTEP research team began installation of the UTM infrastructure in February. The system achieved initial operational capability March 15, and is expected to be fully operational by late summer.

“Unmanned aerial systems research, development and commercialization is a rapidly expanding part of the U.S. economy,” said Ahsan Choudhuri, Ph.D., cSETR director and chair of UTEP’s mechanical engineering department. “The cSETR research team under the leadership of Dr. Michael McGee is positioning UTEP and our region as a national leader in this new frontier. Our effort will create incredible educational and economic development opportunities for the El Paso community.”

Drone use by public users throughout the United States has risen significantly during the past few years, a trend that is expected to continue. There are currently more than 1,000 drones in El Paso registered with the Federal Aviation Administration. The actual number of drones in El Paso is likely much larger since not all owners register their aircraft with the FAA.

“The use of unmanned aerial systems will continue to exponentially grow throughout the U.S.,” said Michael McGee, Ph.D., cSETR senior research associate. “This UTM system sets the foundation for UTEP and our greater community to be national leaders in this arena, serving our 21st century student population.”

The primary focus of the UTM system is to increase safety throughout the Paso del Norte region. Mid-air collisions between manned and unmanned aircraft in low-altitude airspace are a significant concern.

This UTM system will allow for increased situational awareness for pilots of manned and unmanned aircraft, thus increasing safety in the community. The secondary focus of the UTM system is to facilitate safe and efficient drone operations, increasing public safety, and attracting more high technology opportunities for UTEP students.

Some of the societal benefits from utilization of the UTM infrastructure include helping farmers increase production by identifying problems in crops more quickly, clearing traffic accidents faster, inspecting critical infrastructure without putting people at risk, helping firefighters combat blazes more effectively, assisting in search-and-rescue missions, and inspecting buildings to identify energy efficiency issues.

Gallery+Story: UTEP, High School Students Win United Launch Alliance CubeSat Competition

Students from the NASA MIRO Center for Space Exploration and Technology Research, or cSETR, at The University of Texas at El Paso have been selected as first place winners of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) CubeSat launch competition, known as CubeCorps.

Their project, Orbital Factory II (OF2), will be launched on board the Atlas V rocket and placed into an elliptical orbit approximately 26,000 miles above Earth’s center.

ULA President and CEO Tory Bruno traveled to El Paso and made the announcement Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017 on the UTEP campus.

“I am thrilled to announce The University of Texas El Paso as the first place winner of our CubeCorps competition,” Bruno said. “Congratulations to the team; you are the next generation of rocket scientists and space entrepreneurs, and we are honored to be your ride to space.”

ULA’s CubeCorps was established to encourage hands-on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) experiences and provide universities with the opportunity to launch their CubeSats. This low-cost approach will make space more affordable and accessible.

Students and faculty members from UTEP’s Department of Mechanical Engineering will collaborate with engineers and technologists from Lockheed Martin Space Systems to design and develop the OF2, which will demonstrate on-orbit repair of solar cells using 3-D printing technology. The UTEP student team was led by research assistant professors Angel Flores-Abed, Ph.D., and Arifur Khan, Ph.D., cSETR research engineer Michael Everett, and David Espalin, associate director at the W.M. Keck Center for 3D Innovation.

UTEP’s CubeSat development initiative is a strategic partnership between its Keck Center for 3D Innovation and cSETR.

“Our goal is to quickly position ourselves as a leader of this rapidly emerging area to bring more opportunities for our students,” said Department of Mechanical Engineering Chair and Director of cSETR Ahsan Choudhuri, Ph.D. “Although there are other major university players, our strategic strength in additive manufacturing and in-space propulsion makes us a formidable team.”

ULA is the nation’s most experienced and reliable launch service provider, successfully delivering more than 115 satellites to orbit that provide critical capabilities for troops in the field, aid meteorologists in tracking severe weather, enable personal device-based GPS navigation and unlock the mysteries of the solar system.

UTEP’s second CubeSat project, Orbital Factory I (OF1), is giving students from Bowie and Burges high schools and Hornedo Middle School the opportunity to work alongside University researchers to demonstrate robotic manipulations using a CubeSat platform. OF1 was the second place finisher of the Boston Museum of Science Fiction and New York NASA Space Grant Consortium High School CubeSat Competition.

More K-12 learning opportunities will be included in the development and testing of CubeSats as part of cSETR’s commitment to engineering education at all ages.

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