Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
A new company is headed to Spaceport America in southern New Mexico to test recently developed turbulence-detection technology on unmanned glide flights through the stratosphere.
Stratodynamics Inc., which operates in the U.S. and Canada, will conduct a two-week, multi-flight campaign in early December to test novel turbulence sensors developed by both the University of Kentucky and the NASA Langley Research Center, the spaceport announced Monday.
The technology could help improve flight safety for commercial aviation, said spaceport Interim Executive Director Scott McLaughlin.
“Tracking down and measuring clear turbulence is difficult,” McLaughlin told the Journal. “It’s exciting to have someone on site doing that. We wish them luck.”
Stratodynamics manages an unmanned aerial vehicle specifically designed to fly in the stratosphere, which ranges, roughly, from about 30,000 feet to about 100,000 feet. The company uses balloons to float the craft to a target height. It then breaks aways to slowly glide back down to Earth using an autopilot system, said Stratodynamics CEO Gary Pundsack.
“We typically carry instruments for customers to measure things like ozone or greenhouse gasses in the stratosphere,” Pundsack told the Journal. “In this case, we’ll measure turbulence with two different sensors developed by NASA and the university. They’ll be assembled together to cross validate them.”
NASA designed a forward-sensing technology to detect turbulence before it reaches the aircraft, and the university built a device to measure turbulence when the vehicle is reaching the area of disturbance, said Sean Bailey, a University of Kentucky mechanical engineering professor and principal investigator on the project.
“NASA’s technology will look more at what’s coming toward the aircraft from far away, and ours will measure turbulence when the aircraft is entering the region where the turbulence is developing but isn’t yet very strong to provide a little detection redundancy. Hopefully, the signals together will provide some advance warning for aircraft.”
Navigators could then apply mitigation strategies to avoid or better manage events, Bailey added.
The restricted airspace at White Sands Missile Range attracted Stratodynamics to Spaceport America.
“There are no domestic air traffic routes there, which makes it much easier for these types of experimental flights,” Pundsack said.
This is the fifth new aerospace company this year recruited by the spaceport. But the global pandemic is interfering with activities.
“It’s making planning difficult for us and our customers,” McLaughlin said.
In fact, the state’s new coronavirus lockdown encouraged Virgin Galactic to scrub this month’s planned rocket flight to space.
“Due to the new COVID-19 restrictions in New Mexico and after consultation with the government, the spaceflight planned for Nov. 19-23 will be rescheduled,” the company said in a tweet Monday morning. “We’ll be monitoring the situation and will set a new test flight window as soon as we can.”