General Atomics to Upgrade NASA Predator UAV for Arctic Flight; Frank Pace Comments

Frank Pace, courtesy of defensemedianetwork

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. has partnered with NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in an agreement to develop and test the new command and control satellite link capabilities on a MQ-9 Predator B unmanned aircraft system, according to a company statement.

As part of a no-cost Space Act agreement signed in September, GA-ASI and NASA will upgrade the command and control system of NASA’s Predator “Ikhana” to enable 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.”

NASA is using the UAV in flight research activities to pave the way for opening up the National Airspace System to unmanned aircraft systems, as well as its role in advancing science.

“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 the Aircraft Systems Group at GA-ASI.

On its next mission, the marginal ice zone observations and processes experiment planned for 2013, Ikhana will carry science instruments designed to investigate ice changes in the Arctic.

“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.

Ikhana, which has been in use by NASA since 2006, is capable of reaching altitudes above 40,000 feet and flying for more than 20 hours.

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