Lighter than air technology for military and civilian applications in latin america

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Lighter-than-air (LTA) Unmanned Aerial Systems have become an important part of airship market worldwide. In recent years,developments by military and civilian organizations in Europe, USA and ASIA …

Lighter-than-air (LTA) Unmanned Aerial Systems have become an important part of airship market worldwide. In recent years,developments by military and civilian organizations in Europe, USA and ASIA have lead investigators and researchers in Latin America to propose the use of LTA equipment in diverse applications by government and military sectors, proposing a new alternative in the communications and surveillance/reconnaissance market. This paper takes a survey on the actual LTA-UAS market worldwide and offers a status report for the on-going LTA-UAS programs in Latin America. It also provides a report of the author’s experiences in recent activities to research and develop LTA-UAS
equipment for diverse applications in the Latin American region.

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  • 1. 1 1st INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE & EXHIBITION FOR THE LATIN AMERICAN UAS COMMUNITY UAS Latin America 2011 Parque Tecnológico, Sao Paulo, Brazil – 25-27 October 2011 Lighter-than-air UAS Technology for civilian and military applications in Latin America Adrian Peña Cervantes, Victor X. Enriquez Champutiz UAS Researcher UAS Researcher Mexico City, Mexico. Latacunga, Ecuador. Abstract Lighter-than-air (LTA) Unmanned Aerial Systems have become an important part of airship market worldwide. In recent years, developments by military and civilian organizations in Europe, USA and ASIA have lead investigators and researchers in Latin America to propose the use of LTA equipment in diverse applications by government and military sectors, proposing a new alternative in the communications and surveillance/reconnaissance market. This paper takes a survey on the actual LTA-UAS market worldwide and offers a status report for the on-going LTA-UAS programs in Latin America. It also provides a report of the author’s experiences in recent activities to research and develop LTA-UAS equipment for diverse applications in the Latin American region.
  • 2. Adrian Peña Cervantes UAS Latin America 2011 2 INTRODUCTION Latin American aircraft researchers have been involved since long time ago in Lighter-than-Air (LtA) vehicles design and operation. One of the most important examples of LtA development in the region is the Brazilian sportsman, inventor and millionaire Alberto Santos Dumont that one hundred and ten years ago, back in 1901, among very other interesting activities, flew his airship number 6 in Paris and won the Deutsch de la Meurthe prize of 100,000 francs for flying from the Parc Saint Cloud to the Eiffel Tower and back in a record time of less than thirty minutes, fig 1. [1] Fig.1: Brazilian inventor Santos-Dumont’s airship number 6 rounding the Eiffel Tower in 1901. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution (SI Neg. No. 85-3941 In Mexico, back in 1973 the company Sapacial of Mexico flew a man-carrying saucer airship, a lenticular craft 24mts in diameter with a gas volume of 2505m3 and matriculated MLA-24-A. Later, after years of experimentation and research in June 1989 there was a last version matriculated MLA-32-B with a lenticular configuration of LtA vehicle that was operated by its designer and moving spirit of the entire enterprise Mr. Mario Sanchez Roldan. Sadly, because of the tragic death of this Mexican LtA researcher, there were no more R&D projects in Mexico with LtA vehicles that could bring further knowledge until recent years [1] Fig 2. Anyway, since many decades ago, lighter than air technology has been present in diverse activities in the civilian, military and experimental aviation sectors along Latin America countries. Most of his applications have been so far in the commercial world for advertising and resource monitoring purposes, but in the past decade, the quantity of R&D projects for LtA implementation to the UAS sector has increased substantially. Mainly, recent advances in the world in ultra-lightweight fabrics, composites, thin- film solar cells and unmanned control techniques have made possible to conduct R&D programs for the evaluation of these vehicles in diverse applications for the industry, civilian purposes and for military activities. Because of renewed interest in Airship technology in Latin America, this paper outlines the research experiences of authors in Mexico and Ecuador in the development of LTA-UAS equipment through the past decade and a brief summary of the applications foreseen for the next years. We must state that because the LtA UAS projects performed by authors in the civilian, industry and military fields are of cost‐shared public‐private R&D programs and other government R&D assistance; this document provides a summary of experiences and research output concepts that no contain classified information. Fig.2: Sketch of lenticular airship manufactured in Mexico in 1989 by Manuel Sanchez Roldan.
  • 3. Adrian Peña Cervantes UAS Latin America 2011 3 By the Mexican part, the projects with LtA UAS prototypes have been appointed to attend the power utility industry and the AFOLU (Agriculture, forestry and Other Land Use) projects regarding environment and climate change programs. The R&D experience of the author goes way back to mid 2005 when was enrolled on feasibility studies for the use of LtA technology and the visit to foreign LtA projects in South Korea, Japan and United Kingdom. During 7 years he has conducted tests on locally developed small RPV airships and small fixed wing prototypes as well UAS platforms in Spain and Canada. Figures 3, 4 and 5. Fig.3: Aerostatic balance in a small unmanned airship. Fig.4: Fabrics and envelope inflation for small unmanned airships. Fig.5: Preparing a small unmanned airship for monitoring tests. By the Ecuadorian part of this researchers group the activities have been appointed during three previous years to the research and development of GN & C (Guidance, Navigation and Control) theories on small unmanned airships. The applications foreseen in this group are for civilian applications in the telecommunications and population support in diverse applications. The most important success in the R&D in UAS in Ecuador has been the linkage with academic groups, Universities and government to create roadmaps for the development of key UAS technologies not only in LtA platforms but many others that seem to be relevant for the future of national technology development. Figures 6, 7 and 8. Fig.6: Inside a small unmanned airship envelope. Fig.7: Preparing the LtA UAS platform for flight tests. Fig.8: Outer envelope inside hangar facilities.
  • 4. Adrian Peña Cervantes UAS Latin America 2011 4 Authors have participated in diverse UAV and Airship forums in different countries during the last years and also have worked in joint prototype tests and technology evaluation for LtA UAS platforms. Back in 2009 conducted joint evaluation sessions for small unmanned airships obtaining relevant results for the development of new and upgraded platforms. Most of the relevant information and assessment in airship technology for our research group has come from the International Airship Association. Through the invitation to participate in Conferences in Germany and United Kingdom The networking with professionals around the world from Europe to Australia, Canada and USA, have represented advancing ideas and theories for the design and feasibility studies of our R&D efforts. [2] PAST AND ON-GOING LtA UAS PROJECTS IN THE WORLD. The following list gives an overview of some of the most interesting projects regarding the development and assembly of LtA Unmanned Aerial Systems in the world that have inspired our group to develop and research these aerial platforms: Brazilian Airship project AURORA - Autonomous Unmanned Remote Monitoring Robotic Airship- Created in 1997 by CenPRA for the development of intelligent semi-autonomous aerial robotic systems, this project has represented one of the most important efforts among Latin American researchers for the creation on LtA UAS projects. Its scientific and research group has created interesting output data for the enormous untapped potential that LtA UAS platforms offer for applications in low-speed, low- altitude exploration, surveillance, and monitoring, as well as telecommunication relay platforms. [3] Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), Multi-Purpose Stratospheric Airship. Back in 2000 the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy (MOCIE) of South Korea decided to develop a Stratospheric Platform as an important national development project. Korea has been developing the Multi-Purpose Stratospheric Airship for a while producing interesting control flight, telecommunications and energy management theories for LtA platforms. Due to the great technology potential implied in this project, in 2005 The Mexican part of our research group visited KARI to get an understanding of the plan roadmap as well cutting edge technology involved in the LtA platform research and development [4]. Figures 9 and 10 Fig. 9: Presentation of Multi-Purpose Stratospheric Airship concept. Fig. 10: Ground Control Station for KARI’s unmanned airship.
  • 5. Adrian Peña Cervantes UAS Latin America 2011 5 Long Endurance Multi-INT Vehicle (LEMV) Hybrid Air Vehicles Ltd from England was the designer and inventor of the first large hybrid aircraft under construction nowadays for the project Long Endurance Multi- Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) represented by Northrop Grumman who have succeeded in winning a $517 million contract to produce up to three LEMV systems on behalf of the US military. Its main objective is to provide U.S. troops with persistent ISR capability to increase awareness of the ever changing battlefield in Afghanistan and future conflict areas. [5] Fig. 11. This is the most successful demonstration of LtA UAS platforms viability for military applications so far. It demonstrates that investing in LtA R&D will be productive in the future for Latin American research groups. Fig. 11: LEMV created by Hybrid Air Vehicles Ltd.Photo taken from the International Airship association website Integrated Sensor is Structure (ISIS) high altitude unmanned airship Created by Lockheed Martin and Raytheon the huge Integrated Sensor is Structure, or ISIS, high altitude unmanned airship is planned to fly for the first time in 2013. It will be 500 feet long and 150 feet in diameter. The radar in an operational ISIS would be larger still, 10 times as big, about 6,000 square meters. It is expected by the manufacturers that will remain in the stratosphere for perhaps a decade. This project seems to represent the most advanced technological option for broad- area-surveillance persistent airships. It enhances current C2ISR air assets for military border control and drugs law enforcement through its wide-area foliage penetration radar. [6] Latin American borders could benefit from the R&D in these platforms for the near future war against drugs Fig. 12. Fig. 12: Radar concept at ISIS airship, Lockheed Martin. © Lockheed Martin R&D WORKS ON SMALL UNMANNED AIRSHIPS AS UAS PLATFORMS. After concluding the first research phases of our projects we have specifically developed theories and subsystems for the construction of the next systems that seem to be of great relevance in the construction of small unmanned airships as UAS platforms in the near future:
  • 6. Adrian Peña Cervantes UAS Latin America 2011 6 Autonomous GN & C (Guidance, Navigation and Control design The control and flight dynamics of a LtA platforms are nonlinear and complex, thus posing a challenging problem for developing autonomous control systems for such devices. During 5 years we have worked on the GN & C (Guidance, Navigation and Control) system that provides an autopilot capability to the small unmanned airships, so that its flight path meets the high-level objectives commanded by the diverse applications enlisted in this paper. Solar Power In the LtA platforms like the small unmanned airships, there is enough space for solar power system and photovoltaic cell arrays to be installed in the upper external surface of their envelope; this is a quality that other UAS do not have on their structures. Our groups have worked toward the implementation and encapsulation of photovoltaic materials and their integration into the envelope of some prototypes. First research outputs found viable application solutions, one of them would be the thermoplastic or thermosetting polymeric materials applied under different manufacturing processes as thermoforming, resin infusion and bonding. Our cell arrays development program considers in a step-by-step procedure the study results provided by structure and stress analyst engineers in the research group for the selection of photovoltaic cells mechanical properties as following: • Stiffness / flexibility and resistance. • Low weight. • General operating conditions as temperature, pressure, cycles of work, mode of operation, environmental conditions, etc. • Permeability / leakage materials. • Service Lifetime. • Maximum costs (cost/benefit). APPLICATIONS After almost 7 years of experience in the R&D of LtA UAS we can affirm that the next applications and markets are the most viable for the use and manufacturing of LtA UAS platforms in Latin America: Telecommunications Markets: • Communications Relay. • Internet and Broad band Communications repeater. • Cellular phone infrastructure. Law Enforcement Market: • C4 ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) activities in Urban Areas. • Drug Enforcement • Police Command & Control • Electronic eavesdropping. Military and Defense Market: • Early warning border detection. • Immigration Service Border Patrol • Persistent Surveillance platforms. • Disaster assistance. • Disaster assessment. • Surveillance / Search & Rescue • And the most technologically toughest to produce in the next decades: High altitude platforms. Industry Market: • Monitoring and maintenance of High Power Electric lines. • Oil and Gas pipe line monitoring and surveillance. • Mining and petroleum industry operations. Environment and Climate Change Market: • AFOLU (Agriculture, forestry and Other Land Use) projects. • Geophysics and atmospheric scientific research. • Inspection of man-made structures and archaeological site prospection.
  • 7. Adrian Peña Cervantes UAS Latin America 2011 7 CONCLUSIONS After years of research in LtA UAS prototype tests in Mexico and Ecuador we can provide the next conclusions for the operation and the future of airship technology in the UAS sector: LtA UAS advantages. • As researchers in the RPV, UAV and UAS field we have found interesting flying characteristics in the LtA UAS, like buoyancy control, perpendicular up-and-down motion, hovering, and the ability to land in a small clearing as benefits for an aerial platform in a disaster or monitoring situation not able to be performed by an small fixed wing UAS. • Maybe hovering and station keeping are the most significant advantages of LtA UAS, providing the means to conduct persistent area surveillance. • For the industry of power utility, oil and gas pipe line inspections and the monitoring of large and long right of way corridors, where detailed inspection is a key factor the LtA UAS are valuable technological solutions. • There is an increasing market demand especially from military and governmental authorities. • The LtA UAS provide real advantages in terms of modularity, silence, substantial autonomy and high degree of controllability during normal and scheduled day and night hours. • Low cost and flexibility are driving factors. • The LtA UAS could reduce human life exposure in long, dull, intrusive and dangerous air missions for diverse applications in industry and military sectors. • For environmental reasons, they provide potential economic savings and the benefits of less fuel consumption, less greenhouse gas emission, and less disruptive noise than for manned aircraft. • The LtA UAS will bridge the gap between what can be measured by satellites and what is measured at static ground-based, research stations. They are easy to transport, relatively simple to deploy in forest or remote geographic areas as well as easy to launch and recover by on- field operators. Challenges • Nowadays, when researchers speak about airships, the most common platforms employed by LtA UAS projects to no initiated people, they usually think about zeppelins in fire and the danger of employing lighter than air technology. This is almost the only thing left in people's mind. The future of LtA UAS technology needs that lost culture to be excavated and understood. Nowadays, all these platforms employ helium into their envelopes, a safe and innocuous gas for conducting lifting in the LtA platforms operations. • Existing LTA industry in Latin America is from the capacity point of view and financially too small for larger projects. Co-operation with aerospace industry and companies dealing with Military and governmental market seem to be necessary. The realization of new R&D programs is highly dependent on financial investors • There is a need for an increasing number of university projects (low complexity) for feasibility studies and demonstration prototypes.
  • 8. Adrian Peña Cervantes UAS Latin America 2011 8 • Building the machine is only a part of the process to bring the LtA UAS to a large scale industrial life. It will be necessary to deal with legal and regulatory implications among civil air authorities. UAV/UAS regulations are a very unclear subject, but the on-going R&D programs mean an opportunity to open discussions about the way to introduce new standardizations for lighter-than-air unmanned aerial vehicles in the region. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS • The authors express their deepest gratitude to the National Council for Science and Technology (CONACYT) of Mexico [7] and the Research and Development Center of the Ecuadorian Air force (CIDFAE) for its funding and technical support to airships and unmanned vehicles research programs in previous years. Without the government policies to support science, technology and innovation, this research project could not be possible. • We express sincere appreciation for the intense and dedicated work performed by funders, members and collaborators of the International Airship Association to promote the airship technology. Their advice and enthusiasm are invaluable for Latin American airship researchers. [2] • We express gratitude to the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, CEM through its Research Division and Project coordination department for its valuable advice in our UAS R&D activities. REFERENCES [1]Edwin Mowforth, “An introduction to the airship”, Third edition. The Airship Association Ltd., September 2007. [2] The International Airship Association. [3] Project AURORA: Development of an Autonomous Unmanned Remote Monitoring Robotic Airship Alberto Elfes, Samuel S. Bueno, Marcel Bergerman and Josué Jr. G. Ramos Robotics and Computer Vision Laboratory, Automation Institute, Informatics Technology Center Caixa Postal 6162 -Campinas, SP Brazil 13083-970 email: Sérgio Bittencourt Varella Gomes LTA Brasil Ltda. Rio de Janeiro, RJ Brazil [4] “Development of an unmanned airship system” Proceedings of the 4th International Airship Convention and Exhibition 2002. Dong-Min Kim, Chan Hong Yeom and Cheol-Ho Lim Aircraft Division in Korea Aerospace Research Institute, South Korea P.O.Box 113, YooSung Taejon, 305-600 KOREA [5] Hybrid Air Vehicles Ltd 2 Medway Court University WayCranfield Technology Way Cranfield Bedfordshire MK43 0FQ. [6] “Unmanned Airships” Ron Browning, Lockheed Martin Corporation, proceedings of the AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems North America 2010 [7] The National Council for Science and Technology of Mexico (CONACyT) URL: