RELLIS Campus Selects Lone Star UAS Center to Assist with Drone Policy, Support

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – The Lone Star UAS Center of Excellence & Innovation at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi is branching out to provide expertise and support to the RELLIS Campus in Bryan, Texas.

The RELLIS Campus, founded in 2016 by the Texas A&M University System, fosters cutting-edge research, technology development, workforce training, and two- and four-year college degrees by tapping the System’s state agencies and multiple universities, along with academic, corporate, and government partners outside the System.

Lone Star and RELLIS administrators signed a memorandum of understanding earlier this month to develop an airspace management plan and to create a flight operations cell to support aeronautics research at RELLIS.

Lone Star Associate Director Jason Blevins is now based at RELLIS. It is the first time a regional university in the A&M System has established a satellite office on the RELLIS Campus for research and innovation.

“Jason is going to help develop a policy with the RELLIS Campus for everybody who needs authority to do experimentation with small UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), so it supports both faculty research and student involvement in faculty research,” said Michael Sanders, Lone Star Executive Director. The policy development work will cover UAS operations on the RELLIS Campus, informed by the Texas A&M System UAS policy that Lone Star is also assisting in updating.

As one of the nation’s seven FAA authorized test sites, Lone Star provides expertise, authorities, and access to airspace that exceeds the allowances afforded through the FAA’s current small UAS rules. These authorizations provide opportunities for research and innovation beyond those currently available to other System universities and agencies.

“We’re not leisure flying,” Blevins said. “Our goals are to shape and influence national-level UAS policy through academic and industry related aeronautics research.” Through these efforts, Lone Star advises and informs FAA efforts to establish regulatory guidance, flight rules, and safety information that shapes the future of UAS integration into the National Airspace System.

Blevins will help update the Texas A&M System UAS policy and work on a UAS use policy specific to the RELLIS Campus with a goal of having Lone Star serve as the UAS supervising authority for planned UAS flight activity at RELLIS. These policies will help to speed up the mission approval process while enabling a multi-use airspace that safely integrates UAS operations over the campus.

An additional benefit of having a Lone Star UAS presence at RELLIS is that it will improve Lone Star’s rapid deployment efforts of UAS to support public service operations.

“It will probably make sense at some point for us to pre-position our [UAS] disaster response assets that are currently here in Corpus Christi, and warehouse them in College Station,” Sanders said. “The response time would go from four to six hours to less than two hours,” as Lone Star would have on-site assets available to immediately support Texas A&M Task Force-1 urban search and rescue operations.

Lone Star’s efforts to integrate into RELLIS displays their commitment to serving as an innovation and research thought leader in the Coastal Bend area.

“I think it helps make the System attractive to technology companies that need access to the airspace and the research performed by faculty across the System,” Sanders said. “As a test site, we will be able to provide public operations to further aeronautics research. It’s a great opportunity to marry our authorities and the RELLIS Campus to provide a service to the System, across and outside the state.”