NASA Dryden's "Ikhana" UAV soars over the
Mojave Desert in CA.
Photo: NASA / Tony Landis
8/22/2007 - EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, CA. - The West
Coast of the United States has suffered extreme heat
and drought this summer, leading to greater danger of
wildfires. NASA and the U.S. Forest Service are
testing aerospace agency-developed technologies to
improve wildfire imaging and mapping capabilities.
From mid-August through September, NASA's Dryden
Flight Research Center is conducting flights of a
remotely piloted unmanned aircraft system to
demonstrate the capabilities of its sophisticated new
imaging and real-time communications equipment. The
first flight of the series Aug. 16 captured images of
California wildfires, including the Zaca Fire in Santa
Barbara County. The aircraft carried instruments that
collected data while flying more than 1,200 miles over
a 10-hour period.
"The images from the flight demonstrated that this
technology has a future in helping us fight wildland
fires," stated Zaca Incident Commander Mike Dietrich.
"We could see little on the ground since the fire was
generating a lot of smoke and burning in a very remote
and inaccessible area. This technology captured images
through the smoke and provided real time information
on what the fire was doing," said Dietrich.
"These tests are a ground-breaking effort to expand
the use of unmanned aircraft systems in providing
real-time images in an actual fire event," said
Vincent Ambrosia, principal investigator of the
Western States Fire Mission at NASA's Ames Research
Center, Moffett Field, Calif. "This is a prime example
of NASA science and technology being used to solve
NASA's Ikhana, a Predator B remotely piloted aircraft
adapted for civil missions, is flying its first
operational effort during a series of four or five
missions over the western states. Its sensor payload
is collecting detailed thermal-infrared imagery of
wildfires and is demonstrating the ability of unmanned
aircraft systems to collect data continuously for 12
to 24 hours. The second flight in the series, a
mission that will take Ikhana over Idaho and last an
estimated 20 hours, is scheduled for Thursday, Aug.
Thermal-infrared imagery taken by the Ikhana
UAV of the Zaca fire in CA.
Photo: NASA / Europa Technologies
A satellite data link allows real-time transfer of
fire imagery to virtually anywhere on Earth.
Information from the sensor is transmitted to Ames
where it is simultaneously available to the National
Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, as a Google
Earth overlay and through NASA/Open Geospatial
Consortium Web services.
"The success of these tests will help to refine the
future direction of fire mapping for the wildfire
management agencies," said Everett Hinkley, liaison
and special projects group leader for the U.S. Forest
Service, Salt Lake City.
The Autonomous Modular Scanner sensor, designed and
built at Ames, is currently configured to observe
fires and other high-temperature sources. The scanner
can detect temperature differences from less than
one-half degree to approximately 1,000 degrees
Fahrenheit. These temperature discrimination
capabilities are important to improving fire mapping.
Scientists are also testing the Collaborative
Decision Environment software, a new technology
application originally developed by NASA for the Mars
Exploration Rovers. This software is an interactive
tool that allows sharing of vast amounts of
information with members of the mission team for
effective planning and acquisition of imagery over
critical fire events.
Dryden completed a six-month process to obtain a
Certificate of Authorization from the FAA allowing an
unmanned aircraft to fly wildfire-sensing missions in
the national air space of the western states.
"In the not-too-distant future, we'll look back at
unmanned aircraft demonstrations like the Western
States Fire Mission and realize that these flights
paved the way for civilian uses of unmanned aircraft
that benefit all of us," said Brent Cobleigh, Ikhana
project manager at NASA Dryden.
The aircraft's name, Ikhana, is derived from a Native
American Choctaw word that means intelligent,
conscious or aware. NASA acquired the aircraft in
November 2006 and intends to use it for Earth science
and atmospheric science data collection missions.
Pilots from NASA and Ikhana manufacturer General
Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. operate the
aircraft from a ground control station at Dryden,
located at Edwards Air Force Base. NASA sponsorship is
provided by the agency's Science Mission Directorate,
Source: NASA Dryden Press Release