Aura Network Systems raises $75 million | Wbactive

Aura Network Systems, a Virginia-based company developing a wireless communications network for unmanned and autonomous aircraft, has raised $75 million in its latest funding round.

To date, Aura has raised approximately $110 million to expand its wireless network, which consists of 57 locations providing nationwide coverage in all 50 US states, plus Puerto Rico, Guam and American Samoa. Last week, the company announced it had received a $55 million investment from Fortress Investment Group and an additional $20 million from two previous investors, Mudrick Capital Management and Tracker Capital Management.

As a command and control communications service provider, Aura aims to provide a secure communications platform for flight data transmissions in unmanned autonomous aircraft. Its network can be used to control unmanned aerial systems (UAS), transmit telemetry data, and relay voice communications between air traffic controllers (ATC) and operators.

A dedicated spectrum for UAS

As early as 2010, the FAA and NASA recognized a need for new aeronautical communications guidelines that would allow the integration of remotely piloted aircraft into the National Airspace System (NAS), particularly when it comes to beyond line of sight (BVLOS) operations in controlled airspace.

At the time, authorities agreed that remotely piloted aircraft or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) could not safely fly in the NAS due to the lack of an allocated frequency spectrum and the lack of minimum system performance standards for UAS communication systems.

Founded in 2019, Aura aims to meet these needs by creating a dedicated communications network for both autonomous and traditional piloted flight operations. The company launched its coast-to-coast wireless network in November 2020, and in January 2021, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) licensed Aura to use the 450 megahertz spectrum with no altitude restrictions.

“The reason [we chose] This spectrum is because it was intended for aviation… It wasn’t really used for anything other than old traditional air-to-ground radio services and that’s why we had the opportunity to essentially use it fully to gain control of the whole band to take over,” Bill Tolpegin, CEO of Aura, told FutureFlight.

“Another reason we like it is that 450 megahertz is considered very low-band spectrum from a spectrum stack perspective,” Tolpegin added. “When you build a network, start with low-band first because it provides coverage.” With a low-band spectrum as a foundation, providers like Aura can then add capacity with additional bands at higher frequencies over time, he explained .

With its recent funding increase, Aura has the support it needs to not only continue its research and development work, but it has also used some of the new funding to purchase 450MHz spectrum from the FCC. “We leased it for a period of time to see if we could actually get the regulatory requirements right and all that and we were able to do that, so we used some of the recent funding to buy it and complete it “, he said.

In order to access Aura’s network, aircraft must be equipped with a specific Aura radio. These radios and Aura’s network as a whole must meet Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics (RTCA) DO-377A “Minimum Aviation System Performance Standards for C2 Link Systems Supporting Operations of Unmanned Aircraft Systems in US Airspace” requirements.

Aura’s Path to Operations

For the past several years, Aura has tested its network both on the ground and in the air to ensure it meets DO-377A requirements. Last summer, Aura successfully demonstrated its communications links in flight tests using a Cessna Caravan equipped with an Aura airborne radio and voice communications module. Conducted over Maryland and Ohio, these flight tests were designed to simulate remotely operated BVLOS regional air cargo flights.

While the FAA is yet to approve commercial flight operations without a pilot, Tolpegin believes the first autonomous aircraft to launch over Aura’s communications network will be cargo airlines like Xwing and Reliable Robotics. But Aura’s network will also help enable autonomous operations in urban air mobility, such as Wisk Aero’s eVTOL autonomous air taxi services. Because there is no clearly defined path to certification, Wisk has not yet said when it expects to start commercial operations. However, Xwing is already conducting test flights using remote-controlled Cessna Caravans (with safety pilots on board) and the company plans to begin unmanned cargo operations in 2024.

said Tolpegin FutureFlight that Aura is working with several key players in both air cargo and advanced air mobility (AAM), but the company has not yet announced any official partnerships with these industries. However, the company has been actively working with regulators to help shape policies surrounding UAS.

In June 2021, the FAA selected Aura to lead the Third Party Services Working Group of its BVLOS Rules Committee. Shortly thereafter, Aura was selected as a partner for NASA’s AAM National Campaign, which aims to support the integration of AAM with the NAS. Aura is also working with the FAA to research performance standards for ATC voice communications in UAS.

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