Autonomous Control / Control of Uninhabited Air Vehicles (UAVs)

  • Research Area: Autonomous Control

    In the SPACE URC, research in the area of autonomous control will be conducted in connection with guidance and control of UAVs, spacecraft formation flying, and aircraft formation flying.


  • Research Activity: Formation Flying

    NASA is interested in space missions to perform reconnaissance, interferometry, passive radiometry, virtual co-observing, stereo imaging, and terrain mapping using versatile, low-cost, and highly capable spacecraft in appropriate formations. Each spacecraft is controlled to accomplish the shared mission objectives. Issues such as collision avoidance and flight-path tracking in the presence of possible uncertainties and failures make designing the flight control system for each spacecraft very challenging. The proposed research activity will focus on the use of intelligent control techniques for formation flying. Adaptive, robust, neural, and nonlinear control techniques are candidates for dealing with large uncertainties and possible failures. Stability issues on the local and group level will be investigated.

  • Research Activity: Control of Uninhabited Air Vehicles (UAVs)   

    Uninhabited air vehicles (UAV) are of great interest to NASA. For example, NASA is currently exploring the application of UAV research on weather and storm detection and real-time monitoring and control of UAV science payload and data.  UAVs are free of the constraints imposed by the presence of the human pilot, but because of that they pose new control challenges. The sensors on board must emulate the human pilots' sensing capabilities, and the control system has to deal with both normal and unpredictable situations. The proposed activity will address all aspects of UAV development: Mission Specifications and Configuration Design; Aerodynamic and Structural Analyses; Fabrication of Airframe and Material Processing; Integration of Propulsion; Navigation and Control Systems; and Fight Tests and Sustained Operation


During the past three years, the UAV research team at the SPACE URC has developed two unique UAVs powered by hydrogen fuel cells.  The CSULA FC-1 (Fig. 1a) was one of the first fuel cell-UAVs in the world which demonstrated a fully controlled flight on August 26, 2006.  The CSULA/OSU Pterosoar (Fig. 1b) was developed in collaboration with Oklahoma State University, and on September 12, 2007 set a world record of 80 miles in range for UAVs weighing less than 5 kg. This UAV is expected to set another record of over 16 hours in endurance in summer 2008.  These UAV can be either radio-controlled by ground pilots or flown autonomously with a GPS-autopilot system on board.

Building on these successes, the research team proposes to continue the development of high-performance UAV projects, such as: Improvement of fuel cell-UAVs to challenge new records in range, endurance and altitude; Vertical take-off and landing UAV development; Development of hybrid fuel cell – solar cell propulsion systems for UAVs; High speed UAVs powered by advanced jet propulsion systems; Utilization of bio-fuel propulsion systems for UAVs; and Autonomous formation flight control of multiple UAVs.

These multidisciplinary projects will offer new challenges in the research areas of aerodynamics, materials, structure, propulsion/combustion systems and control algorithms, hence requiring enhanced collaboration among all research groups of the URC.


  • Research Activity: UAV for Transportation of Hyperspectral Imager

    The NASA-URC SPACE Center UAV Team has agreed to work in conjunction with NASA Antenna and Optical Systems Branch and support their mission to flight test a Hyperspectral Imager (payload system) by providing a platform to transport it. The design of the UAV and its mission will be developed to meet the goal of flying the14 lb payload system.

    This effort aims to design and fabricate an Uninhabited Aerial System capable of ferrying a 14 lb. payload at a density altitude of 8000 ft for 3 hours. The system will utilize a Cloud Cap Technology’s Piccolo Flight Control System developing autonomous flight capabilities that include auto take off and landing. The final system will serve as a platform to flight test a Hyperspectral imager provided by NASA Antenna and Optical Systems Branch.