The Federal Aviation Administration has given aircraft operating in conjunction with the state’s Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site permission to fly at night, officials announced Thursday.

“The addition of night flying opens up the opportunities for industry partners to test sensor payloads in all lighting conditions,” said Robert Becklund, executive director of the test site.

Sensors carried by unmanned aircraft can include video cameras, thermal cameras and other technologies that can be used collect data. In turn, those data can be used for a variety of purposes across a number of industries, from analyzing crop conditions to inspecting buildings to searching for missing persons.

“(The UAS) industry is taking off before our eyes, and the fact that Grand Forks’ test site is the first in the nation to perform research at night reinforces our state’s position as a leader in this technology,” Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said in a statement Thursday.

The test site, which is headquartered in Grand Forks, also received approval to conduct testing throughout the entire state at altitudes higher than 200 feet.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said in a statement the expansion of flight times and locations will allow the test site to continue its excellence in testing and developing UAS technology.

“That means greater opportunities for our state’s residents in this growing and vibrant industry,” he added.

Previously, the site’s certificate of authorization, a document stipulating conditions for legal UAS flight, covered about two-thirds of the state’s airspace.

The FAA approved new COA application based on the site’s maturity and its demonstrated safety and operational processes, a test site news release said.

North Dakota’s site is the first of the FAA’s six test sites to be entirely covered by a COA that includes airspace above 200 feet.

©2015 the Grand Forks Herald (Grand Forks, N.D.) Distributed byTribune Content Agency, LLC.