Drone Delivery, Urban Air Mobility: NASA is Moving Ahead

NASA drone projects and their acronyms are starting to look like a language of their own – but the agency is moving forward steadily on projects to integrate drones into the airspace for everything from drone taxis to delivery drones.

Today, NASA and California-based NextNav annouced that NASA will use NextNav’s Metropolitan Beacon System (MBS) as part of those projects.  “NASA will use NextNav’s MBS network as part of its CERTAIN (City Environment for Range Testing of Autonomous Integrated Navigation) facilities at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA,” says NextNav. “CERTAIN supports, among other programs, Urban Air Mobility (UAM), an air transportation system with myriad applications from small package delivery drones to passenger-carrying air taxis.”

Knowing exactly where a drone is located in the airspace – both horizontally and vertically – is a critical component of managing drone traffic in urban air environments.  But in places where GPS is not reliable or available, that can be a challenge.  That’s where NextNav’s MBS system comes into the process.

“NextNav’s MBS system provides us with new tools for the development of navigation systems in environments where GPS has traditionally been challenged,” said Evan Dill, Safety-Critical Avionics Systems Branch of NASA. “We’re looking forward to working with MBS as we develop new approaches to the operation of unmanned systems in urban environments.”

“NextNav’s wide-area terrestrial positioning network ensures accurate and secure location services, which is critical for unmanned aircraft navigation,” says NextNav. “In addition, MBS complements and integrates seamlessly with GPS and provides a level of georedundancy ensuring a safe and efficient system for future air transportation in cities and urban areas.”

“We are proud to work with NASA and integrate MBS into its urban drone operations,” said Ganesh Pattabiraman, co-founder and CEO of NextNav. “The MBS system is designed for secure, reliable and consistent 3D Geolocation capabilities which are important for autonomous systems such as drones. NASA’s acquisition of the MBS system is an exciting milestone for MBS technology and a great partnership with NASA to address the key challenges in urban drone navigation and make it possible to explore new opportunities in unmanned operations.”



Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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