Parimal H. Kopardekar, senior technologist for air transportation systems at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, was presented a prestigious medal for government service at a gala in Washington Tuesday.
Kopardekar was selected from more than 300 nominees to receive a 2018 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal for his vital role in designing a first-of-its-kind traffic management system for unmanned aerial vehicles, paving the way for the safe, expeditious and large-scale use of commercial drones in the national airspace system.
“Dr. Kopardekar’s expertise in unmanned aircraft systems and urban air mobility are crucial assets to NASA as we seek to further improve our aeronautics and drone capabilities. The research NASA does on these subjects benefits not just government but the private sector as well,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Dr. Kopardekar exemplifies NASA’s ongoing dedication to aeronautics research. We thank him for his outstanding service and congratulate him on this remarkable achievement.”
The challenges are many, but Kopardekar is solidly backed by a team of air traffic professionals who develop new solutions to move them closer to their ultimate goals.
“Being selected for the 2018 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal for Promising Innovation is a tremendous honor, said Kopardekar. “But it is only due to tireless, hard work of thousands of people over many, many years, who made contributions, both large and small, to form what we know today as the UTM program. It is on behalf of those unsung heroes that I humbly accept this award.”
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates that by 2022 there could be more than 700,000 commercial drones flying millions of times a year in low-altitude airspace to deliver packages, monitor traffic, track storms, inspect power lines, aid search and rescue operations and more.
“The small drones are coming,” Kopardekar said. “If they are not supported and you send millions of drones into the sky, it will be unmanageable. This is a chance to study and put together an entirely new system that will have tremendous impact on society. The current way can’t accommodate large-scale operations. We have to change the paradigm.”
To achieve that change, NASA is working with the FAA and industry in a national campaign to safely enable large-scale drone operations in rural and urban settings and get the widest possible range of operations and conditions. The partnership involves testing at six FAA test sites; New York, Virginia, North Dakota, Texas, Alaska and Nevada.
The current national campaign, Technical Capability Level 4, or TCL 4, builds off earlier TCL testing by adding increasingly complex operations where drones are beyond the visual line of sight of the operator. Upon completion of TCL 4, the technologies and test results from this project will be transferred to the FAA and industry in 2019 for development into operational systems.

Kopardekar is the third Ames researcher to be nominated for a Sammy Award. He follows William “Bill” Borucki, honored in 2013 as a finalist for the Career Achievement Award for his visionary work on the planet-hunting Kepler mission. Hanwant Singh was a 2017 finalist for the Career Achievement Award, selected for his pioneering research in the field of Earth Science.

The Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals pay tribute to America’s dedicated federal workforce, highlighting those who have made significant contributions to our country. Honorees are chosen based on their commitment and innovation, as well as the impact of their work on addressing the needs of the nation. More than 300 nominations were submitted for the 2018 medals. A committee of leaders in government, academia, the private sector, media and philanthropy selected the winners.

For more information about Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals and a full list of the 2018 winners, visit:

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