Due to the high precision of the FLAIR sensor and its miniaturization/compactness requirements, the structural integrity and geometry of this prototype will most probably be delicate and fragile. As such, it was important to also take into consideration the accelerations and vibrations that it will have to endure during real mission phases. For this purpose, vibration and acceleration profiles were collected from flight data for Tekever’s AR3 UAV platform system. This system is deployed with a catapult and recovered either with the remote deployment of an onboard parachute or with a static net, which subjects the system to large specific forces for short transients of time. The AR5 takes-off and lands automatically from a runway which, at the cost of higher logistical footprint, results in a much smoother acceleration profile. A typical temperature profile was also constructed for the same flight tests, in order to justify the need for the incorporation of a cooling system in case the sensor being developed presents strong temperature-related performance degradation.
Since the project’s inception, the team as kept confidence on the AR3 as the most suitable platform to host the FLAIR sensor, regarding the AR5 as a fallback solution in case the sensor development became too constrained by the limited capabilities of the UAV in terms of available payload mass, volume and power. Recent results in the development of the sensor’s subsystems have led the Consortium to believe that, in order to have the desired power distribution in the spectrum generated by the laser sources, the instrument may have a power demand that the AR3 cannot provide. Also, the limited available volume in the payload bay of the AR3 may constitute a challenge that would shift the focus from the main goal of the project: validating the operation of the sensor onboard a flying UAV. Upon these reflections, the team debated and decided to replace the AR3 with the AR5 for the validation phase of the project. The current aim is still to provide a compact sensor with a an adequate footprint for UAV integration, but without the concerns of the design eventually outgrowing the platform’s capabilities or being too fragile to be included in its operations.
Using an autonomous UAV platform will enable covering a large area with the sensor and rapidly access areas that are too dangerous or too difficult to reach by humans.