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NASA has recently awarded Black Swift Technologies (BST), a specialized engineering firm, a contract to develop and deliver a drone platform to explore volcanoes. The research will be used to improve air-traffic-management systems. BST will deliver a small unmanned aerial system that includes an airframe, avionics and sensors specific to measuring temperature, pressure, humidity, particle sizing and trace gases.

BST CEO, Jack Elston, told that the firm will build two fixed-wing aircrafts, each with a wingspan of about 3 meters. It will take about two years to design, build and test the aircraft. He explained: “We’re testing in a mountainous region to make sure it can operate in rough terrain”.

The unmanned aerial system is specifically designed to carry scientific equipment as its payload, loading it near the nose of the plane. The aircraft BST is using is actually a modification from another project they did under a NASA grant that measured soil moisture from the air. It should have a flight time of about three hours on a single battery.

The contract value for this particular project, granted under Phase II of NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research program, was not available at time of publication. However, sןnce 2012, Black Swift has gotten about $1.1 million in grants from NASA for various projects.

Looking ahead, Black Swift has started adapting its aircraft for other research purposes, partnering with the University of Colorado and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The plan eventually is to use the aircraft for commercial processes, such as monitoring crops during the grow season.