Texas UAS Center receives access to NASA secure info network

By Texas A&M-Corpus Christi | August 18, 2016

For the first time, the Lone Star UAS Center (LSUASC) of Excellence and Innovation at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi will be able to monitor a NASA UAS flight as it is happening across the country. A recently completed agreement between LSUASC and the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, will create new opportunities for University researchers to directly participate in NASA’s secure information network and exchange UAS flight data.

“We are proud to be on the cutting edge of this new technology,” said Flavius Killebrew, president and CEO of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. “Connecting with NASA safely and securely is key to advancing research partnerships, not only in unmanned aircraft but for other fields as well.”

The LSUASC has been working under a funded contract with NASA to document and improve information security practices as well as secure an Interconnection Security Agreement (ISA). The ISA establishes important guidelines for connecting information technology systems that are owned by two different organizations. This agreement will also open doors for continued research partnerships in unmanned aircraft and data simulation with the NASA Ames Research Center.

 “We already have a strong relationship with NASA working on the Unmanned Traffic Management project,” said LSUASC Assistant Director Melanie Neely Willis. “This new connection gives us the capability to pass live and simulated UAS data within NASA’s secure information network.”

As an example, NASA and LSUASC could conduct UAS flights across the country from each other, but both UAS flight trajectories could be displayed in real-time on a moving map in LSUASC’s Mission Control Center (MCC).

The ISA is the first step toward the LSUASC achieving a strong connection to NASA’s network through an Authority to Operate (ATO). An ATO would benefit researchers across the University by opening new ways of collaborating with NASA and other federal agencies. An ATO would also give University researchers an advantage in competing for grants and other opportunities.

The LSUASC has prioritized connecting the MCC to NASA since initial discussions highlighted the possible opportunities for collaboration within the two networks. The LSUASC, one of the six federally designated UAS test sites around the nation, has the only MCC with software that allows for transmission and manipulation of UAS data. As such, they are planning for the safe integration of unmanned aircraft into the national airspace.

The Island University’s Division of Information Technology was instrumental in the network enhancements. Lionel Cassin, Information Security Officer, led efforts to develop secure procedures for LSUASC and said this process would benefit information security across campus.

“The Division of Information Technology recognizes the need for heightened security supporting innovative research,” said Edward J. Evans, associate vice president for information technology and chief information officer. “We collaborated extensively with the Lone Star team, and leveraged our experience in security, systems, and network design to implement a University connection that allows for expanded opportunities with NASA and other federal organizations.”