A center for developing and testing drones and associated technology has been launched at Westcott Venture Park in Buckinghamshire, UK.
The Drone Test and Development Centre (DTDC) wants innovative drone and drone technology companies to use the facilities. The Centre has its first tenant, Skyports Drone Services, and is in talks with several other companies to move in soon.
The DTDC complies with UK CAA regulations including CAP 72 for the operations of unmanned aircraft systems up to 400ft. It offers three hangars, areas for drone operations, four drone landing pads and a 270m (885ft) runway.
Drone operations are restricted to line of sight, but there are plans to install the equipment needed to enable Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations. A tender for the supply of passive and active radar and ATC systems, an unmanned traffic management (UTM) system and safety systems concludes at the end of this year and the equipment will be installed soon after.
The DTDC also plans to open a secondary site at a former RAF base in Worminghall, around 25 miles south
The Centre is being run by the UK’s Satellite Application Catapult, a UK-Government backed technology innovation agency that works closely with the space industry.
“Instead of using a muddy field or working around the constraints of a general aviation airfield, a drone company can fly, test, experiment and iterate technology in a comfortable, safe and secure environment here,” said Kieron Arnold, chief architect of future networks and systems at the Satellite Applications Catapult. “This is a place where you can test all of your operational processes with a drone in the way it will be used in the future.
“The Satellite Catapult is interested in drones because of Communication Navigation and Surveillance. CNS already happens in the space sector and we need to implement it in the airspace to enable the drone industry to grow in a meaningful way.
“Satellites will provide the system of systems redundancy and safety for drones, for example when switching between ground-based networks.”
Lucy Edge, chief operating officer of the Satellite Applications Catapult said, “No one has an integrated solution for operating BVLOS drones and existing air traffic in the same airspace yet. Problems like that will be worked out in places like the Westcott Drone Test and Development Centre, where companies can develop safe and resilient drone operations that are useful for society.”
“Westcott has created an environment which is so appealing it has attracted tenants already.”
Skyports Drone Services moved into the DTDC last year. The company, which is one of the largest drone operators in the world is using the Center to train pilots, test new models of drones, trial routes, conduct R&D and devise conops and safety guidelines.
“We bring drones to Westcott to see if they are good enough to use in our operations,” said Michael Merritt, strategy and operations executive for Skyports
Skyports also has its global command and control center at Westcott, from where it is remotely running delivery, survey and surveillance flight trials. An ongoing project is moving pathology blood samples for the NHS (National Health Service) between nearby hospitals, while others have seen the company work with Royal Mail and FedEx.
Westcott Venture Park is a 650 acre former Ministry of Defence rocket testing site that hosts several rocket and propulsion systems companies including Nammo and URA Thrusters, as well as the UK’s National Space Propulsion Test Facility.