With the recent opening of the Department of Homeland Security's Common Unmanned Aircraft System Site at the Camp Shelby, Miss., military base, Mississippi State University is further poised to continue its major research and development programs for small unmanned aircraft systems, says MSU President Mark Keenum.
In a letter to university staff, alumni, and friends, Keenum says the opening of the facility at Camp Shelby, near Hattiesburg, in partnership with Homeland Security, represents “an important initiative” that will result in “major contributions to national security and drone technology.”
Partners include the Mississippi National Guard’s Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center, the Mississippi Air National Guard’s Gulfport Combat Readiness Training Center, NASA’s Stennis Space Center, the Jackson County Port Authority, and the Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission.
The dedication of the Camp Shelby partnership site follows the May 2015 announcement that, after “a rigorous and highly competitive review process,’ MSU had been selected to lead a consortium of 13 universities in operating a national center for research on unmanned aerial systems (UASs), encompassing a wide range of applications, from agriculture to homeland security. Included would be research into drone detection and avoidance technology, low level flight safety, control/communications, pilot training, and integration with the nation’s air traffic control system.
A partnership with the Department of Homeland Security has expanded Mississippi State University’s national role in research and development of small unmanned aircraft systems
MSU’s Department of Aerospace Engineering is consistently ranked among the best in the nation, attracting students worldwide. Its Raspet Flight Research Laboratory is one of only a handful of university-based flight laboratories in the nation where students can conduct research involving analysis, design, manufacture, and flight testing of full-scale aircraft and unmanned aerial systems. It boasts access to some of the best computational resources in the world through its affiliation with MSU’s High Performance Computing Collaboratory.
Projections by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems indicate the industry could generate more than 100,000 jobs, with an economic impact of $82 billion, in the first decade after the FAA permits normal commercial operation of UASs.
“We have helped several Mississippi start-ups join this booming technology sector by providing a business incubator on our Starkville campus,” Keenum’s letter says. “Our state is quickly becoming the nation’s hub for UAS research and development, with MSU leading the way. With this latest initiative, MSU continues to demonstrate preeminence as a leading research university.”
The new Homeland Security facility at Camp Shelby will utilize approximately 2,000 square miles of restricted airspace, at altitudes up to 60,000 feet, primarily over southern and coastal Mississippi.
“Mississippi has a number of unique assets that facilitate unmanned aircraft test flights that aren’t found in many other places, and we can fly year-round,” said Dallas Brooks, director of the world-renowned Raspet Flight Research Laboratory at MSU, following the announcement earlier this year. Brooks will lead the demonstration range team.
The Homeland Security facility will be able to conduct exercise training to support a wide variety of simulated scenarios, he says, including disaster relief (flood, fire, earthquake), highway/rail accidents, border protection, and containment of hazardous materials spills. All of the planned exercises will incorporate small unmanned aerial systems to assist Homeland Security in monitoring and assessing simulated scenarios over land and water.
“Unmanned aircraft provide unmatched data that first responders and homeland defense agencies can use to make faster and better decisions across a range of critical situations,” Brooks says.
In a video accompanying Keenum’s letter, he says: “Unmanned aerial systems are going to play an important role for our future in many ways” and MSU’s research will “enable us to incorporate this technology into our daily lives.”
Getting hands-on experience with controlling a small unmanned aircraft system is Dr. Mark Keenum, president of Mississippi State University, which was selected by the Federal Aviation Administration to lead the nation's research and development of UASs and operational guidelines.
He notes that the Boeing Company, a world leader in commercial aircraft, has opened a research facility at the MSU Raspet Flight Laboratory. “There’s no way Boeing would be putting these resources and investment into the state of Mississippi without us being the lead center for this unbelievable field of technology. This is going to have a tremendous economic impact on our state for generations to come, and is an outstanding accomplishment for the state of Mississippi and our university.”
In the same video, William N. Bryan, Undersecretary for Science and Technology for the DHS’ Common Unmanned Aircraft Systems site, says multiple government agencies, including the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, the Secret Service, the first responder community, and the DHS Science and Technology Directorate, “went through a rigorous year-long evaluation of facilities across the country, and Camp Shelby was selected.”
Brigadier General Janson D. Boyle, who is adjutant general of the Mississippi National Guard, said at the dedication ceremony, that unmanned aerial systems “will permit us to fly over enemy lines and see what they have, and look at their formations so we can know where to send our infantry, our armor, and our field artillery.”
Mississippi’s congressional delegation were strong supporters of the partnership plan. Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, both Republicans, and Representatives Bennie Thompson, Democrat, Gregg Harper, Steven Palazzo, and Trent Kelly, all Republicans, said in a statement that “Mississippi is uniquely suited to assist the DHS in leveraging this technology in a way that is cost-effective, provides access to unrestricted flight time, and is available immediately to support evolving and diverse DHS missions.
Located at Camp Shelby, in southern Mississippi near Hattiesburg, a new Homeland Security unmanned aircraft systems facility will utilize approximately 2,000 square miles of restricted airspace, at altitudes up to 60,000 feet, for research and development.
“We are committed to continuing to support our state’s efforts to advance capacity and knowledge about how to safely integrate unmanned aerial systems into the national airspace in a way that contributes to our national security needs.”
Sen. Wicker in a statement regarding the facility, noted that “drones are changing how we deliver goods, grow crops, map terrain, and research wildlife. These systems are not limited to the skies but also allow us to explore the oceans in unprecedented ways. The Naval Oceanographic Office at the Stennis Space Center has the largest fleet of gliders and the largest concentration of oceanographers in the world.”
These aircraft, he says, “offer a low risk, cost-effective option for amassing data over a large geographic area, revealing trends and conditions that could help scientists understand” such problems as the hypoxic zone, or dead zone, in the Gulf of Mexico.
The University of Southern Mississippi at Hattiesburg “is earning an excellent reputation for its work with undersea gliders,” Wicker noted. “It has developed the first certification for unmanned martime systems, giving students the opportunity to gain valuable skills in a burgeoning career field.”