STARKVILLE, Miss.--A celebratory press conference at the state's flagship research university had a decidedly Mississippi flavor Friday morning [June 5].
State leaders joined Mississippi State senior leadership and researchers to discuss the university's lead role for the Federal Aviation Administration's new National Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems.
"We won," said David Shaw before a standing-room only crowd gathered in the Thad Cochran Research, Technology and Economic Development Park.
"It is another great day to be a Mississippian and a Bulldog," the land-grant institution's vice president for research and economic development said.
The six-year competitive effort to land the project was realized in May when the FAA announced the Mississippi State-led Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE) will operate the new national center. (Learn more about ASSURE at www.assureuas.org.)
"This team has the capabilities and resources to quickly get up and running to help the FAA address the demands of this challenging technology over the next decade," FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said at the time.
Shaw recognized and thanked USAF Maj. Gen. (Ret.) James Poss, executive director of MSU's ASSURE team, and Marty Rogers from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, who is deputy director of the ASSURE consortium.
While an official announcement was made in Washington, D.C., last month, Shaw said that it was important to highlight -- and celebrate -- Mississippi State and the State of Mississippi's achievement.
On Friday, state officials lauded MSU's leadership and research capabilities and their significant impact on economic development in the Magnolia State with the new center of excellence being the latest example.
"Research and development here has led the world in aerospace, automobile manufacturing... and agribusiness," said Gov. Phil Bryant.
"This is a day we should savor and be proud of," he said.
While research will take place at member universities throughout the U.S. and globally, the center's work will be concentrated at Stennis Space Center in Hancock County to take advantage of airspace over the Gulf of Mexico, in the Mississippi Delta to conduct unmanned precision agriculture research, and around MSU's Raspet Flight Research Lab in Starkville.
Mississippi State President Mark E. Keenum thanked the governor and his team, as well as the state's Congressional delegation, for their efforts to bring the center to the state.
"We are very grateful to Senator (Thad) Cochran, Senator (Roger) Wicker, and other members of our Congressional delegation, and to Governor Bryant and other state leaders, for their help in making the new center a reality," he said.
Keenum explained that the commercialization of UAS technology will bring many thousands of high-tech jobs and billions of dollars in economic impact across the country, and that Mississippi will be one of the primary beneficiaries.
However, achieving that successfully will "depend on our ability to safely and efficiently introduce large numbers of commercial unmanned vehicles into the nation's busy airspace. Helping to do just that is a primary goal of this new Center of Excellence.
"It is a sizeable challenge, but Mississippi State and our team of 20 research universities and more than 100 government and industry partners selected to operate this program are well equipped to handle it, and we are eager to get to work," Keenum said.
Mississippi Development Authority Executive Director Glenn McCullough Jr. noted that the new UAS center will enhance the state's efforts to recruit new high-tech, high-paying companies and also aid existing companies with additional growth and expansion opportunities.
"This takes our recruiting message to a higher level," the Mississippi State agricultural economics alumnus said.
According to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the domestic UAS market is projected to create more than 100,000 jobs and $82 billion in economic impact in the first decade after FAA integration is complete. During the same period, the UAS industry could create more than 1,200 jobs and approximately $973 million in economic impact in Mississippi alone.
"As you can see," Shaw said, "this is a very big deal."
"While we are proud of our role in this project, none of it would be possible without the incredible team that comprises ASSURE, as well as the support of our state and federal leaders. This was truly a collaborative effort throughout the entire process, and we expect that solid foundation to lead to greater success moving forward," he said.
The directive to the FAA to establish the national center has been included in congressional appropriations bills since FY2012, with Congress appropriating $5 million to support a five-year agreement with the COE UAS. Federal funding will be matched by ASSURE team members.
The FAA expects the COE to begin research in 2015 and be fully operational in 2016 in its exploration of evolving new technological developments regarding unmanned aircraft and their uses, including detect-and-avoid technology, low-altitude operations safety, privacy safeguards and other areas. Research also will involve the deployment of UAS for emergency response, biofuel and clean fuel technologies, law enforcement activities, and agricultural and environmental monitoring.
Moreover, the COE UAS will coordinate research and development activities with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Agriculture and other agencies. Its work will also lead to recommendations on aircraft certification, flight standards and air traffic requirements, and facilitate UAS technology transfer to other civilian and defense agencies.
Friday's program concluded with a demonstration flight of a Precision Hawk Lancaster 3 unmanned aerial vehicle by a research team led by Robert Moorhead, MSU professor and Northern Gulf Institute and Geosystems Research Institute director. (Read more about this research at http://www.msstate.edu/web/media/detail.php?id=7002.)
As the state's flagship research university, Mississippi State is a recognized leader in a number of fields, and well known for productive partnerships, real-world impact, and offering undergraduate and graduate students unique research opportunities. In FY 2013, MSU's research and development expenditures totaled $206 million -- representing nearly half of all R&D by higher education in the state, according to National Science Foundation data.