This past week the inaugural NASA UAS competition was held at Kennedy Space Center.  This was an inter-agency competition that pitted teams from Kennedy Space Center, Johnson Space Center, and Marshall Space Flight Center against each other.  The mission concept was to design, build, and fly and unmanned aerial system in a mock search and rescue mission.  We had about 18 months to work on this in our spare time.  The objective was to autonomously fly an unmanned aerial vehicle with an imaging payload to locate targets on a field and report the target locations and provide pictures of the targets.


There are six of us that made up the core of the Marshall Space Flight Center team called Aero-M.  Our vehicle was designed around a 3DR Hex frame and the APM 2.5.  We used ArduCopter 3.0.1 for the competition and flew a completely autonomous mission (takeoff, multiple waypoint search pattern, landing).  We used the 880kV motors with 12x38 props for maximum efficiency.  With four 6000mAh batteries, we were able to achieve flight times of over 30 minutes.  Our total vehicle cost was around $2800. 




Our competition consisted of a large electric helicopter and a custom airplane.  The helicopter used an APM 1 and custom code, and the airplane used a Piccolo flight computer.  The helicopter cost is around $6000 and the airplane cost is around $16000.


The flight day of the competition consisted of 2 flight missions for each team.  The first mission had mannequins in orange clothing to identify.   The second mission had mannequins in street clothing and camouflage clothing to identify.  At the end of the second mission there was an endurance test to see how long you can stay in the air.  We ended up being the only team that flew autonomously.  The other teams could not get their flight computers working and had to revert to manual flight.  We also ended up with the longest flight time since the helicopter could only last 15 minutes and the plane had a malfunction at the 18 minute mark.

[Ed: THEY WON! (see comments)]


I wanted to take this opportunity to thank 3DR and all the developers for evolving ArduCopter into a flight computer that can easily compete with professional products.  The other teams and the judges were very impressed with the ease that our vehicle handled the high winds (sometimes over 15mph), the rock solid tracking between waypoints, and the amazing loiter during the endurance phase.

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