A research team at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) is developing an airborne testing capability for sensors, communications devices and other airborne payloads. This aerial test bed, called the GTRI Airborne Unmanned Sensor System (GAUSS), is based on an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) made by Griffon Aerospace and modified by GTRI.

The current project includes development, installation, and testing of a sensor suite relevant to many of GTRI’s customers. This suite consists of a camera package, a signals intelligence package for detecting and locating ground-based emitters, and a multi-channel ground-mapping radar. The radar is being designed using phased-array antenna technology that enables electronic scanning. This approach is more flexible and agile than traditional mechanically steered antennas.

The combined sensor package is lightweight enough to be carried by the GAUSS UAV, which has a 13.6-foot wingspan and a payload capacity of approximately 40 pounds. The aircraft navigates using a high precision global positioning system (GPS) combined with an inertial navigation system. These help guide the UAV, which can be programmed for autonomous flight or piloted manually from the ground. The airborne mission package also includes multi-terabyte onboard data recording and a stabilized gimbal that isolates the camera from aircraft movement.

The GTRI team has developed a modular design that allows the GAUSS platform to be reconfigured for a number of sensor types. Among the possibilities for evaluation are devices that utilize light detection and ranging (LIDAR) technology and chemical-biological sensing technology. In addition to phased-array scanning capability, the radar operates in the X-band, is capable of five acquisition modes and can be programmed to transmit arbitrary waveforms.

Possible applications include using the signals intelligence package to locate people buried in rubble by searching for cell phone signals. In another scenario, a group of self-guided UAVs could be used to create an ad hoc cell phone network. That application could be potentially valuable in a post-disaster scenario where existing cell phone towers have been disabled, as happened after Hurricane Katrina, the Haiti earthquake, and other events.