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NMSU ready for takeoff with 13th annual unmanned aircraft systems conference

New Mexico State University is building a stellar international reputation for its work on unmanned aircraft systems, a fact reflected in the continually growing success of its annual UAS TAAC (Unmanned Aircraft Systems Technical Analysis and Applications Center) Conference.

An artist's rendering of the Vulture unmanned aircraft system flying.
NMSU's involvement with the Vulture program began at a UAS TAAC Conference. This year, the conference takes place Dec. 6-8. (Rendering courtesy of Boeing)

Entering its 13th year, the UAS TAAC Conference is hosted by NMSU's Physical Science Laboratory and takes place Dec. 6-8 at the Tamaya Hyatt Regency in Santa Ana Pueblo. The Arrowhead Center, NMSU's economic development hub, also plays a key role in the conference.

"The significance of a UAS conference in New Mexico continues to grow as we see development of the industry in the state," said Steve Hottman, associate dean and deputy director for research at PSL. "Our conference efforts have not only attracted the interest and support of industry and government leaders, but also have acted as a great platform for drawing business to the state, as with the recent Vulture project PSL is working on with DARPA."

On Sept. 30, NMSU announced that PSL had entered a contract with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to assist in the development and lead the flight-testing of the Vulture unmanned aerial vehicle, the prime contractor of which is Boeing. The Vulture II will have a 400-foot wingspan and weigh between 5,000 and 7,000 pounds.

The idea for the Vulture, and NMSU's involvement in the project, began a few years ago at a UAS TAAC Conference.

"This conference is one of the most respected networking venues in the UAS industry," Hottman said. "It allows attendees access to leaders they would likely never get otherwise."

When the first conference was held in 1998, it was one of only a handful in the nation that primarily focused on the civil use of unmanned aircraft systems. Since then, the conference has become a must-attend event for industry and government leaders. This year, representative s from the Department of Defense, NASA, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration, among others, will be on hand. Representatives from aviation user groups, universities and private industry also are expected to attend.

Topics for the conference include airspace access; the use of UAS by law enforcement, homeland security and the military; the availability of spectrum and bandwidth; and the challenges and opportunities facing unmanned aircraft systems. On Dec. 8, a session will be held at a classified location.

"In its 13th year, the TAAC Conference has proven itself to be recession proof," Hottman said. "In fact, registration for the conference is now closed because we have reached maximum capacity."

NMSU's UAS TAAC program has risen to the top of the UAS field through its testing of various UAS platforms. It also has produced a certification roadmap that is serving as a framework for UAS certification. This work has been accomplished largely through the fact that NMSU is the only FAA-authorized UAS Flight Test Center in the United States, which allows UAS operations in the National Airspace System or civilian airspace. Under the FAA agreement, the Flight Test Center can operate flights across more than 15,000 square miles of airspace in southwestern New Mexico. The center's facilities include a 15,000-square-foot hangar at the Las Cruces International Airport that is dedicated exclusively to UAS operations, as well as offices and technical support on the NMSU campus.

On the economic development front, the Arrowhead Center is creating opportunities for aerospace businesses in southern New Mexico and beyond, partly in tandem with Spaceport America near Truth or Consequences.

For more information on the conference, log onto http://taac.psl.nmsu.edu.