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Look to the skies for KM opportunities

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The vast orbital space surrounding Earth’s atmosphere isn’t so vast after all. In fact, some of the many thousands of objects traveling at more than 10,000 miles per hour are at risk of slamming into each other and hurtling uncontrollably back to Earth. With thousands more waiting to be launched, including unmanned maneuverable spacecraft piloted by AI-enabled robots, the need to track and manage those many objects presents a wide open opportunity for KM.

The airspace between the ground and the stratosphere has grown equally more crowded. The recent spate of near misses that prompted U.S. aviation officials to convene a “Safety Summit shines a light on an aging and overloaded air traffic control system.

An increase in the presence of unknown and unauthorized objects traversing our airspace, particularly above populated areas, adds to the growing list of concerns. Just this past February, four such objects were blown out of the sky by U.S. military fighter jets. This comes as fleets of entirely new types of airborne vehicles are due to make their entrance. Welcome to the future of aviation, in which the “friendly skies are crowded with not only rockets, planes, and balloons, but also drones, air taxis, and brace yourselves, flying cars. Another KM opportunity lies ahead.

Droning on …

More than a million commercial and recreational drones are currently registered with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). That number will likely double within the next 5 years. Walmart currently uses drones to deliver packages weighing up to 10 pounds in seven states, covering more than 4 million households. With 20,000 different items currently eligible for drone delivery (roughly 85% of all the items in a typical Walmart Neighborhood Market), it expects the number of drone deliveries to grow exponentially. Amazon; Google's parent company, Alphabet; and many others are scrambling to get in on the action.

Amazon is particularly aggressive, with plans to deliver 500 million packages by drone annually by 2030, according to David Carbon, vice president of Amazon Prime Air.

The FAA maintains a comprehensive set of rules and regulations governing drones. This knowledge is mostly contained in Part 107 of the Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Regulations. Many variables need to be taken into account. Here’s just a taste: What is the ground speed? The altitude, visibility, and cloud ceiling? How is the data link assured throughout the entirety of the flight? What contingency plans are in place in the event of failure of one or more of the many subsystems involved?

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