SESAR project researches tracking of drones in the airspace

Oct. 30, 2017

Drone technology is on the rise and the number of drones in the air is increasing at a rapid pace. These vehicles are often hard to detect since they literally fly below the radar. The chances of conflicts between drones and manned air traffic (or between drones themselves) pose safety concerns and require technology solutions.

The SESAR exploratory research project, CLASS or CLear Air Situation for uaS, aims to combine existing technologies to build the core functions need for safe and secure drone traffic management. More specifically, the research aims to validate technologies required for the surveillance of unmanned aerial systems (UAS, also known as drone) traffic.

Functionalities to be researched include real-time tracking and the display of both cooperative and non-cooperative drones. Drones that transmit their location themselves are called cooperative, whereas for non-cooperative drones the locations are observed and tracked by the external system. In both cases, relevant aeronautical data is aggregated and the data from multiple trackers (both on the drones and on the ground-based systems) is merged through data fusion so that the location of all drones in the airspace can be known and displayed.

Based on these functionalities, a surveillance system will be developed. This system will centralise information of both the planned and the current real-time drone traffic situation. The system will provide the basis with which to develop services tailored to end-users such as drone operators, air navigation service providers (ANSPs) and authorities. Advanced services include tactical geo-fencing (where the drone pilot is warned automatically if he trespasses into an unauthorised zone), geo-caging (where the drone pilot is warned that he is leaving a pre-defined zone), conflict detection and resolution.

The project will validate the drone detection and tracking technologies during live demonstrations, and publish and share its results with the relevant stakeholders, including the drone users and the air traffic management community. Conclusions and recommendations for follow up will be largely disseminated to enable drones to safely operate on large scale for the benefit of the growing drone business. The conclusions and recommendations serve as the basis for future projects. They can also help regulatory bodies advance in the right direction, inform the industry on where to put efforts and show the research community where are the technological difficulties.

The CLASS project is spearheaded by Airbus Defense and Space. International partners Aveillant, ENAC, NTNU and Unifly join forces to research and evaluate the ground-based technologies’ potential to monitor and separate drone traffic in a real-time unmanned aerial system traffic management system (UTMS). The project is funded as part SESAR 2020, the programme for air traffic management modernisation, and within the framework of Horizon 2020.

“Airspace safety is a major concern for Airbus. By leading CLASS and bringing its expertise in safety of life systems, Airbus supports authorities and their regulation of the airspace to ensure that all users can fly safely, without endangering neither airspace users nor the public on the ground,” says Alexandre Piot, Aerospatial Engineer at Airbus Defense and Space.