Low-Cost
Testing for
Unmanned Flight Systems
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles


Contact Information

Roger Lopez
Manager
Autonomous Systems & Controls
(210) 522-3832
rlopez@swri.org

Image: The first test phase was flying the NASA guidance, navigation, and control software on a SwRI-designed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that used a parafoil for lift, but was much smaller than the X-38.

The first test phase was flying the NASA guidance, navigation, and control software on a SwRI-designed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that used a parafoil for lift, but was much smaller than the X-38.

 

Image: The third test phase was to drop the X-38 lifting body from 4,000 feet, with the GNC software tested earlier incorporated into a comprehensive flight control system.

The third test phase was to drop the X-38 lifting body from 4,000 feet, with the GNC software tested earlier incorporated into a comprehensive flight control system.

There was a need for NASA to develop the X-38, the crew return vehicle prototype, at a fraction of the cost of a traditional space vehicle such as the space shuttle Orbiter. Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) provided NASA with the simulation tools and technology to help them validate the guidance and navigation software both in the air, using subscale and full scale parafoils, and on the ground, linking the guidance system hardware and software to a flight simulator.

First Test Phase

The first test phase was flying the NASA guidance, navigation, and control software on a SwRI-designed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that used a parafoil for lift, but was much smaller than the X-38. SwRI engineers incorporated critical parts of NASA’s X-38 GNC software into the UAV autopilot and some of the X-38 sensors into the UAV.

Second Test Phase

The second test phase used a 18,000 pound cargo pallet to test the X-38’s full-scale 7,500 square foot parafoil. The cargo pallet was dropped from a cargo aircraft, equipped with the same autopilot that earlier controlled the UAV.

Third Test Phase

The third test phase was to drop the X-38 lifting body from 4,000 feet, with the GNC software tested earlier incorporated into a comprehensive flight control system.

Related Terminology

unmanned flight system  •  vehicle prototype  •  unmanned aerial vehicle  •  guidance software  •  navigation software  •  aerospace engineering  •  simulation technology  •  flight simulator

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Southwest Research Institute® (SwRI®), headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, is a multidisciplinary, independent, nonprofit, applied engineering and physical sciences research and development organization with 10 technical divisions.

04/15/14