Orbital Micro Systems and Black Swift Technologies Awarded $1.25M SBIR Phase II Contract for Runway Soil Integrity Testing

UAV-based sensors can reduce runway stability and integrity assessments from hours to minutes, assuring aviation efficiency and safety

Orbital Micro Systems, the instrument design and manufacturing subsidiary of Weather Stream Inc., a leader in the collection, aggregation, and dissemination of commercial weather and climate data together with its partner Black Swift Technologies, a leader in the development of advanced uncrewed aerial vehicles for environmental monitoring in harsh environments, announced they have been selected by AFWERX for a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II contract to conduct expedited assessments of soil integrity for landing strips to accommodate C-130 landing operations in unconventional locations. Under the contract, Orbital Micro Systems and co-recipient Black Swift Technologies will prepare and demonstrate the function and performance of uncrewed aerial vehicles and radiometer soil moisture sensing solutions that can scan soil moisture and integrity of an entire potential landing strip in a matter of minutes.

The Department of the Air Force (DAF) has identified soil integrity mapping as being critical to its warfighters because unconventional locations typically have unimproved runways, which are often associated with longer takeoff and landing distance, degraded aircraft handling, and increased safety risks. Current practice entails manual collection of soil samples taken at multiple test points throughout the target runway area.

“We are humbled and excited to receive the award for this project, which utilizes proven commercial technologies to accelerate the data acquisition, analysis, and reporting processes that the DAF requires to assure runway readiness,” said Michael Hurowitz, chief executive officer of Weather Stream. “Many years of development work have led to the demonstration of a new commercial solution for producing high resolution soil moisture maps using our patented sensor and algorithm technologies. Our approach reduces the reliance on costly and time-consuming physical soil sample examinations. This can deliver a more accurate and faster evaluation of soil integrity than previously possible.”

The Air Force Research Laboratory and AFWERX have partnered to streamline the SBIR and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) process by accelerating the small business experience through faster proposal to award timelines, changing the pool of potential applicants by expanding opportunities to small business and eliminating bureaucratic overhead by continually implementing process improvement changes in contract execution. The DAF began offering the Open Topic SBIR/STTR program in 2018, which expanded the range of innovations the DAF funded and now, on October 11, 2023, Orbital Micro Systems and Black Swift Technologies will start their journey to create and provide innovative capabilities that will strengthen the national defense of the United States of America.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Air Force, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

About Orbital Micro Systems

Orbital Micro Systems, a subsidiary of Weather Stream, Inc., specializes in the development and delivery of remote sensing technologies for space, air, sea, and land applications. 

About Black Swift Technologies

Black Swift Technologies is recognized for delivering reliable, robust, and highly accurate uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS) capable of flying scientific payloads in demanding atmospheric environments (high-altitude, arctic, desert, corrosive particulates, and strong turbulence). Its purpose-built scientific aerial platforms are used around the globe for a variety of specialized atmospheric research missions in extreme conditions, including monitoring and assessing wildland fires, volcanoes, tornadoes, and hurricanes. We’ve developed advanced systems enabling machine learning and machine vision for applications like preventative maintenance and automated remote landing with collision avoidance. Our team of industry leading experts continue to develop cutting edge capabilities that push the possibilities of uncrewed aircraft systems. For more information, visit: https://bst.aero.

About Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL)

The Air Force Research Laboratory is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development, and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 12,500 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit afresearchlab.com.


As the innovation arm of the DAF and a directorate within the Air Force Research Laboratory, AFWERX brings cutting-edge American ingenuity from small businesses and start-ups to address the most pressing challenges of the DAF. AFWERX employs approximately 325 military, civilian and contractor personnel at six hubs and sites executing an annual $1.4 billion budget. Since 2019, AFWERX has executed 4,697 contracts worth more than $2.6 billion to strengthen the U.S. defense industrial base and drive faster technology transition to operational capability. For more information, visit: afwerx.com.