Harris Completes Testing of Command-and-Control Solution for Drones
Wednesday, April 24, 2019 | Comments

Harris’ Commercial Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Solutions division completed initial testing of a command-and-control system that could help enable UAS beyond-visual-line-of-site operations (BVLOS).

Under the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Part 107 rules for commercial UAS — also called drones — operations, BVLOS operations are prohibited without a waiver from the FAA. The FAA has contemplated allowing waiverless BVLOS operations and is working with partners to gather information on what type of rules and restrictions can facilitate safe BVLOS operations.

One of the key challenges facing BVLOS operations is the lack of reliable, long-range communications to ensure that remote pilots can maintain control of a vehicle even when it’s out of sight, said George Kirov, vice president and general manager of Harris Commercial UAS Solutions. Harris has developed and is now testing a command-and-control system to help address these issues.

Harris and partners in North Dakota recently completed testing of two components of the solution: a command-and-control network and a command and non-payload control radio (CNPC) capable of operating in C-band spectrum.

The FCC reserved the 5.03 – 5.091 GHz portion of the C-band for UAS command-and-control operations, and it is the only aeronautical spectrum approved for BVLOS operations by the FAA, Kirov said.

In February, Harris became the first company to receive an experimental license for testing a CNPC radio within that spectrum. Since then, the company has been testing its CNPC radio in UAS operational environments and successfully validated its performance in those environments, Kirov said.

Harris designed its CNPC radio in accordance with the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics (RTCA) DO-362 and FAA TSO-213 standards.

At the same time, Harris’ partners at the University of North Dakota and the Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site (NPUASTS) have been testing and validating a command-and-control ground radio network deployed by Harris to support BVLOS operations. This new network adds command-and-control functionality to the previously deployed Harris UAS network, which covers 55 miles between Grand Forks and Fargo, North Dakota, and includes communications and surveillance components to help safely integrate UAS into the national airspace, a University of North Dakota blog said.

The command-and-control functionality allows pilots to send commands to a UAS to help with take-off, maneuvering, landing and maintaining control and allows the UAS to report critical information such as location and battery life, the blog said.

The tests validated the command-and-control radio network’s ability to provide reliable data communications between pilots and UAS over long distances, the blog said.

Because Harris’ C-band experimental license is only valid for the area around Melbourne, Florida, where Harris is headquartered, the North Dakota network tests were performed using the unlicensed industrial, scientific and medical (ISM) band, Kirov said.

Now that the network and the C-band radio have been validated, the next step in the program is to combine the two and perform network testing within the C-band command-and-control spectrum.

To that end, Harris is working to report its results back to the FCC and then apply for a second experimental license in North Dakota for the next test. The company plans to apply for the second license by the end of April and hopes to begin the next phase of testing sometime this summer, Kirov said.

For more on how critical communications entities are using UAS, see the latest issue of MissionCritical Communications magazine.

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