New Tools for New Missions - Unmanned Aircraft Systems Offer Exciting Capabilities
Abstract:There are numerous emerging possibilities for utilizing unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to investigate a variety of natural hazards, both for prediction and analysis of specific events. Additionally, quick response capabilities will provide affordable, low risk support for emergency management teams. NASA’s partnerships with commercial, university and other government agency teams are bringing new capabilities to research and emergency management communities.
New technology platforms and instrument systems are gaining momentum for stand-off remote sensing observations, as well as penetration and detailed in-situ examination of natural and anthropogenic phenomena. Several pioneering investigations have provided the foundation for this development, including NASA projects with Aerosonde, Dragon Eye, and SIERRA platforms. With miniaturized instrument and platform technologies, these experiments demonstrated that previously unobtainable observations may significantly aid in the understanding, prediction, and assessment of natural hazards such as storms, volcanic eruptions, floods, and the potential impact of environmental changes. Remote sensing observations of storms and fires have also been successfully demonstrated through NASA’s efforts with larger UAS such as the Global Hawk and Ikhana platforms. The future may unfold with new high altitude and/or long endurance capabilities, in some cases with less size and costs as payload capacity requirements are reduced through further miniaturization, and alternatively with expanded instrumentation and mission profiles.
Several new platforms and instrument development projects are underway that will enable affordable, quick response observations. Additionally, distributed measurements that will provide near-simultaneous coverage at multiple locations will be possible - an exciting new mission concept that will greatly aid many observation scenarios. Partnerships with industry, academia, and other government agencies are all making significant contributions to these new capabilities.