[GRAPHIC: Figure 50: MODIS images of South Carolina wildfires, requested by EPA.]
NASA GRC Aircraft
The NASA Glenn Research Center continued their outstanding support of the Airborne Science Program in 2009 flying over 220 total hours in four different aircraft.
The Learjet 25 completed ESTO missions with the GSFC CO2 Sounder led by PI Jim Abshire and the SIMPL (lidar) led by Dave Harding. The aircraft also participated in the ACCLAIM coordinated operations mission flying the CO2 Sounder along with aircraft from LaRC, JPL, and DOE in Ponca City, OK. Additional missions for the Learjet included Solar Cell Calibration and Advanced Aircraft Systems sensor development.
The Twin-Otter continued its airborne sensor development work for the Air Force Research Lab. Sensors first flown, developed and demonstrated on the GRC Twin-Otter are now being flown in both Iraq and Afghanistan in support of national objectives.
The T-34C partnered with NOAA for the third consecutive year in providing hyperspectral imagery in support of Great Lakes research. The HSI was developed by GRC PI John Lekki. The T-34C underwent modification this year to incorporate a nadir port for the HSI and other sensors.
The S-3B completed a successful ground test of the Argon ST/AFRL developed the Multi-mission Advanced Sensor Testbed (MAST) pod. This fully self-contained pod features the Argon ST Daedelus Airborne Multispectral Scanner (AMS) in addition to a Near-vis/Near-IR (NVIS/NIR) HSI sensor. It also features an integrated inertial and GPS navigation system and an L-band antenna and video transmitter which is compatible with ROVER. Coupled with the S-3 Inmarsat, the MAST pod should make the S-3 an extremely capable and versatile platform for a multitude of ASP missions. Flight test of the MAST pod is proposed during FY10.
[GRAPHICS: Figure 51: S-3B; Figure 52: Lear Jet; figure 53: T-34C; Figure 54: Twin Otter]
NASA Dryden Flight Research Center’s remotely piloted Predator B aircraft equipped with an infrared imaging sensor recently conducted post-burn assessments of two Southern California large wildfire sites, the Piute Fire in Kern County and the Station Fire in the Angeles National Forest. Named Ikhana, the unmanned aircraft completed a seven-hour imaging flight in November of 2009 from NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center on Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. NASA and the U.S. Army partnered to obtain the post-burn imagery.
More than 160,000 acres of burn area in the Angeles National Forest northeast of Los Angeles were scanned. The scanner collected images that will indicate any remaining hot spots in the fire area. Another use of the images is for the U.S. Forest Service’s Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation, or BAER. The Station Fire imaging flight tracks were flown in the national airspace system though close coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration.
The Autonomous Modular Scanner, developed by NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., was carried in a pod under the aircraft’s wing. The scanner operates like a digital camera with specialized filters to detect light energy at visible, infrared and thermal wavelengths. The scanner operated with a new photo mosaic capability at the request of the U.S. Forest Service. A photo mosaic provides ease of interpretation for the end user, which in the case of an active wildfire is the fire incident commander.
The BAER data is derived from autonomous processes operating on the multi-spectral data available on the Autonomous Modular Scanner. The processes can be changed mid-mission to optimize collection of critical information, either in mapping active fires or assessing post-burn severity.
The post-burn images collected by the scanner were transmitted through a communications satellite to NASA Ames, where the images were superimposed over Google Earth and Microsoft Virtual Earth maps to better visualize the locations. The images then were made available to the Forest Service for initial assessment of the damage caused by the fires and rehabilitation required.
Ikhana carried the Autonomous Modular Scanner for Western States Fire Mission flights in 2007 and 2008, imaging wildfires from south of the U.S. border with Canada to near the Mexican border. Critical information about the location, size and terrain around the fires was sent to commanders in the field in as little as 10 minutes.
The Ikhana team obtains data by using instrumentation developed at the Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. They combined the sensor imagery with Internet-based mapping tools to provide fire commanders on the ground with information enabling them to develop strategies for fighting the blazes. In support of the Fire Missions, the Ikhana flew approximately 20 flight hours and helped to save both lives and property.
The Ikhana is a civil variant of the Predator B aircraft built by the San Diego-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. NASA dubbed the aircraft Ikhana (ee-KAH-nah), a Native American word from the Choctaw Nation meaning intelligent, conscious or aware.
Ikhana supports Earth science missions and advanced aeronautical technology development. The aircraft also is a testbed to develop capabilities and technologies to improve the utility of unmanned aerial systems. Designed for long-endurance, high-altitude flight, Ikhana was modified and instrumented for use in multiple civil research roles.
In 2009, the Intelligence, Information Warfare Directorate (I2WD), a laboratory within the U.S. Army’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development, and Engineering Center (CERDEC) was Ikhana’s primary customer. I2WD is utilizing the Ikhana and Dryden’s UAS expertise to develop sensor technologies that will eventually be used on Predator B aircraft.
A variety of atmospheric and remote sensing instruments, including duplicates of those sensors on orbiting satellites, can be installed to collect data during flights lasting up to 30 hours.
NASA’s Ikhana has a wingspan of 66 feet and is 36 feet long. More than 400 pounds of sensors can be carried internally and over 2,000 pounds in external under-wing pods. Ikhana is powered by a Honeywell TPE 331-10T turbine engine and is capable of reaching altitudes above 40,000 feet.
There are no funded Earth Science related support projects planned for FY2010.
and PLATFORM DEVELOPMENT
NASA Dryden and Northrop Grumman Corporation (NGC) are working under a five year partnership for the stand-up and operation of the NASA Global Hawk system. NGC is providing technical, engineering, maintenance, operations support and the command and control portion of the ground control station. NASA Dryden is providing the facilities for aircraft maintenance and ground control station, and is responsible for ensuring airworthiness of the vehicles, quality assurance, configuration management, and system safety. NASA and NGC are each providing approximately half of the project staffing and will share equal access to the NASA Global Hawk system.
The Global Hawk system is the only available UAS with performance specifications suitable to meet certain high altitude, long endurance science payload objectives. During USAF Global Hawk operations, it has already demonstrated an endurance of more than 31 hours with the capability to take more than 1500 lb (680 kg) of payload to an altitude of 65,000 ft (20 km) while cruising at 350 knots. As such, it represents a major step forward in platform capabilities available for scientific research. The Global Hawk aircraft has numerous existing payload compartments and the potential for adding wing pods. The aircraft has the capacity to provide science payloads with substantial margins for payload mass, volume, and power in these payload spaces.
At the beginning of 2009, NASA and Northrop Grumman held a debut ceremony at NASA Dryden to publicly announce the development of this new capability. Distinguished representatives from Northrop Grumman, the USAF, and NASA, including Andrew Roberts (Figure 48), gave speeches highlighting the NASA/NGC partnership and the use of the Global Hawk system for gathering Earth science data. Displays for each of the Global Hawk Pacific science campaign instruments were positioned around one of the Global Hawk aircraft.
During the stand-up of the program, the two aircraft have undergone extensive inspections and maintenance prior to their return to flight. Also, modifications have been made to the aircraft command and control communications system and the payload support system. In addition, a building-based Global Hawk Operations Center (GHOC) has been developed that is configured to independently support aircraft and payload operations. The Flight Operations Room (FOR) of the GHOC consists of the workstations occupied by the personnel responsible for the flight control and management of the aircraft operations. The Payload Operations Room (POR) of the GHOC consists of the workstations occupied by the personnel responsible for the various aircraft payloads. The POR personnel can monitor payload status, receive payload data, and control the individual payloads.
The first flight of a NASA Global Hawk occurred on October 23, 2009. The purpose of this initial flight of TN 872 was to check out the aircraft systems and verify the functionality of the ground control station. The duration of the first flight was four hours and the aircraft reached an altitude of 61,400 ft. Four additional flights were conducted to further check out systems and gain experience with flight operations. During these flights, NOAA Commander Phil Hall became fully qualified as a Global Hawk Pilot. After the fifth flight was completed, modifications began on the aircraft to support the first science campaign, which is Global Hawk Pacific. TN 871 is being prepared for it’s first flight as a NASA aircraft, which will occur in early 2010.
[GRAPHIC: Figure 55: Then Airborne Science Program Manager Andrew Roberts at Global Hawk debut ceremony at DFRC.]
The Sensor Integrated Environmental Remote Research Aircraft (SIERRA) is an unmanned, fixed-wing aircraft, operated by NASA Ames, which is able to carry up to 100 lbs of science payload, with endurance from 8-12 hours, up to 12,000 ft. The project is a partnership between NASA ASP and the Naval Research Laboratory to demonstrate a multi-mission, medium payload platform for sensor development and science missions suited to unmanned aerial applications.
In FY2009 the SIERRA team completed the New Technology Demonstration phase of the project by successfully flying the CASIE mission from Svalbard, Norway in July 2009. To prepare for this mission, the team conducted cold weather ground tests in Truckee, CA, and cold weather flight test in Dugway, Utah, in partnership with the US Army. An icing mitigation payload was also developed and implemented to provide realtime temperature and humidity data during the flight. The complex instrument integration, which included 2 LIDARS, a SAR, 3 digital cameras, 2 microspectrometers, a pyronometer, and pyrometer demonstrated the utility of SIERRAs relatively large payload accommodations for this class of UAS.
In FY2010 the SIERRA UAS will enter into the ASP aircraft catalog and be available for NASA science missions. The SIERRA team anticipates supporting both EV-1 as well as AITT projects. In addition, partnerships with the USFS, USGS, and NOAA will provide additional resources for increasing the number of payloads available for future science missions.
[GRAPHICS: Figure 56: Preparation and pre-check before first science flight of SIERRA; Figure 57: Post flight check out.]
Common Data and
Full-scale development is underway on a new generation of airborne data systems that will be deployed on the core NASA science aircraft over the next several years. With the increasing availability of satellite communications systems for aircraft, the potential for greatly increasing the science utility of these platforms is becoming evident. Data from the payload instruments, together with aircraft position, but can be broadcast to science teams on the ground, who can then actively adjust their experiment plans, and coordinate multiple platforms, in near real-time. For unattended instruments on platforms such as the ER-2 or Global Hawk, these bidirectional links will also be used to monitor instrument performance, conduct real-time diagnostics, and command changes to system parameters over the course of a mission. Some of these techniques have been demonstrated on the Ikhana UAS with a Ku-band telemetry system, and on the DC-8 and ER-2 using Iridium satellite phone modems. A new Inmarsat BGAN sat-com system was also installed for this purpose on the DC-8 this year.
Key elements of this new communication architecture include an onboard Ethernet network linking the payload instruments to a common server, and a user-transparent sat-com system that extends the network to a ground operations center. It will also utilize standard communications protocols and data formats, including the IWG-1 format developed by the Interagency Working Group for Airborne Data and Telecommunications Systems (IWGADTS.)
Data visualization tools, customized to the different instrument types, are also essential to present the information to the science teams in a usable form for decision making. Software development for this purpose is being led by the University of North Dakota’s National Suborbital Education and Research Center (NSERC) and the Real Time Mission Monitor team at Marshall Space Flight Center. Based on initial implementations by NSERC on the DC-8, these tools will be further implemented in the Global Hawk Operations Center (GHOC) at NASA Dryden in early 2010. Elements of the NASA Ames Collaborative Decision Environment (CDE) and its related web applications, will also be incorporated to facilitate communication and data-sharing with extended science teams across the Internet. Derived from software used to manage the Mars planetary rovers and adapted to airborne platforms for the Western States Fire UAS Missions, the CDE enables real-time interchange between science investigators and mission participants from virtually any location.
Along with the complex software required to support the real-time data environment, specialized flight hardware is also required. One essential element is an enhanced version of the navigation data recorders currently in use on the ER-2 and WB-57 aircraft. These units capture platform and other state data from the aircraft avionics systems and re-broadcast them to the payload instruments. Incorporating the Ethernet network functionality developed at Dryden Flight Research Center on the REVEAL project, the next-generation of these systems will be called the NASA Airborne Science Data and Telemetry (NASDAT ) system and is scheduled to deploy 2010. Modified versions of REVEAL were deployed on the P-3 and DC-8 this year, as NASDAT prototypes. Accompanying this will be a new standard Experimenter Interface Panel (EIP) that will provide electrical power, network communications, and the state data feeds to the various aircraft payload areas. The first of the new EIP units were completed in 2009, and will be installed on the Global Hawk, together with a modified REVEAL unit, pending the availability of the new NASDATs. The EIP/NASDAT combination will eventually be installed on all the core NASA science platforms. In addition, the Global Hawk UAS has unique hardware requirements to transform it into a science platform. A Master Payload Control System/Power Distribution Unit (MPCS/PDU) system, also completed this year, will allow the mission pilot to monitor and control the power and basic functionality of each instrument individually. A separate telemetry Link Module was developed to interface with the high-speed Ku-band sat-com system slated for the Global Hawk. The Link Module will include database software and mass storage for buffering science data, and a dedicated computer for onboard processing with mission-specific algorithms. This flight hardware development is being conducted at the Airborne Sensor Facility (ASF) at NASA Ames Research Center.
This integrated communications and data-sharing concept will be initially demonstrated on the Global Hawk UAS during its inaugural science missions in early 2010, with the associated visualization and web-based tools being hosted in the Global Hawk Operations Center. It will then be gradually implemented across the NASA airborne science fleet as platforms are upgraded and satellite communications systems become more widely available. A universal web-portal for outside access to the real-time mission data is also slated for implementation.
[GRAPHICS: Figure 58: Ethernet switch; Figure 59: The Experimenter Interface Panel (EIP) unit.]
SCIENCE INSTRUMENTATION, FACILITIES and SUPPORT SYSTEMS
Airborne Sensor Facility
Formerly known as the Airborne Science and Technology Laboratory, and located at Ames Research Center, the ASF jointly supports the Airborne Science Program and the EOS Project Science Office. It encompasses the development and operation of facility instrumentation and ancillary systems for community use by NASA investigators. It also provides payload integration engineering support for the science platforms. The facility sensors at the ASF include the MODIS and ASTER Airborne Simulators (MAS and MASTER,) the Autonomous Modular Sensor (AMS) for UAS platforms, and various tracking cameras and precision navigation systems for mission documentation. Working in conjunction with UND/NSERC and several NASA engineers, this group is also leading the implementation of real-time airborne data networks and internet-based “sensor web” technologies for the program. In addition, the lab operates a calibration facility for remote sensing instruments, which functions as a community asset and supports a variety of NASA airborne sensors and radiometers. Additional functions of the ASF include flight data processing, distribution and archive, and flight planning support for remote sensing flight requests. The facility is staffed by the Univ. of California, Santa Cruz, under the NASA Ames UARC (University Affiliated Research Center.) Highlights of 2009 activities follow.
Global Hawk Payload Systems Project
The design and implementation of the payload communications infrastructure for this major new science platform was completed in 2009. A number of custom flight hardware modules were developed and tested, including a Master Payload Control System/Power Distribution Unit (MPCS/PDU) that allows the mission pilot to remotely monitor and control the power and basic function of each payload instrument. A new standard Experimenter Interface Panel was developed for fleet-wide use, which provides electrical power and data communications; and a prototype of the new NASDAT system (NASA Airborne Science Data and Telemetry module) was fielded on the DC-8 and P-3. Based on a modified REVEAL system, this will be the standard airborne network host for the larger science platforms. A Telemetry Link Module was also developed as a peripheral on the Global Hawk airborne network, which will host a database of the mission science data, and respond to download queries across the high-speed Ku-band sat-com system (See the New Technology section for related information.)
MASTER (MODIS/ASTER Airborne Simulator)
MASTER was a key instrument on the DC-8 Student Airborne Research Program (SARP) missions. Students participated in data collections over a variety of study sites that included agricultural areas, and an algal bloom incubator zone in the waters of Monterey Bay. Several of the subsequent SARP teaching modules were based on these data sets. A ten-year time series was also continued, with MASTER data being collected over several long-term study sites in Arizona and New Mexico. These data are being used to monitor changes in desert hydrology, and to develop remote sensing methodologies for understanding surface energy balance. MASTER will be in extended maintenance through the spring of 2010.
MAS (MODIS Airborne Simulator)
After more than 650 high-altitude missions on the ER-2, the MAS system is undergoing partial refurbishment. The digitizer system is being upgraded, and the scanning optics section is being replaced. It is anticipated to return to service in mid-2010.
AMS (Autonomous Modular Sensor)
Designed for automated operations on a large UAS, the AMS has been used mainly to develop methods for real-time fire mapping, flying on the Ikhana Predator-B. This year it was temporarily converted for use on the upcoming Global Hawk GLOPAC missions, with an added spectral band for water vapor mapping, and was flight-tested on the ER-2. After being de-manifested from GLOPAC for weight reasons, it was re-configured for fire work, and flown on Ikhana for burned area assessment following the large Station Fire event in southern California.
Digital Tracking Cameras
These include 16- or 21-megapixel Cirrus digital cameras, synchronized to a precision navigation system on board the aircraft. They are used as secondary tracking devices to provide scene context and mission documentation for the science payload. Over 200,000 frames of imagery were collected this year during the IceBridge missions in Antarctica, where they will be used to study the surface texture and topology within coincident lidar and radar data sets. Time-lapse digital video cameras are also employed as needed, and a new Ethernet-hosted video system is being developed for the Global Hawk UAS, which will enable investigators on the ground to download imagery of selected areas during a mission, without monopolizing limited satellite communications resources.
Applanix POS/AV (Aircraft Position/Orientation System)
These stand-alone systems provide high-fidelity platform navigation and attitude data to science payload systems that require precision geo-location. They are interfaced directly to various facility instruments, and other sensors (e.g. Lidars) as required. This year POS/AV systems were deployed on the P-3, DC-8, ER-2, and several B200 aircraft.
Other Program Support Activities
The ASF manages a sub-contract with Twin Otter International, Inc., which conducts flights with a variety of NASA remote sensing systems. The activities this year primarily involved the JPL Passive/Active L-/S-band microwave instrument (PALS) and the POLSCAT polarimetric Ku-band scatterometer.
Data mining and distribution of precursor HyspIRI data sets, consisting of coincident MASTER, AVIRIS, and HyMap archival data sets, is ongoing together with JPL. AVIRIS and MASTER are slated to be flown together on the ER-2 over selected sites for HyspIRI algorithm development over the next several years.
The facility is also responsible for maintaining the websites for the Airborne Science Program, and the MAS, MASTER, and AMS sensors. It also provides graphical support to the program for conference materials and education and outreach activities.
[GRAPHICS: Figure 60: 3-D rendering of MASTER imagery over Santa Cruz, CA, from a DC-8 Student Airborne Research Program (SARP) mission, July 22, 2009; Figure 61: Lichfield Ice Bridge as captured by the DMS tracking camera during Operation Ice Bridge; Figure 62: A typical DC-8 mission profile from Operation Ice Bridge, derived from the POS/AV system data. The operation base at Punta Arenas, Chile can be seen at top, together with multiple flight tracks over the Antarctic Peninsula (11/16/09); and Figure 63: A merged data set of HyMap and MASTER over Limon, Costa Rica. Acquired on 3/27/05, it covers a spectral region from 460nm to 13.0µm, and is being used as a precursor data set for the new HyspIRI satellite program.]
The Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility (DAOF) in Palmdale, California now serves as the home base for the NASA DC-8, ER-2’s and G-III aircraft. Co-location of these airborne science platforms into a single hangar results in substantial cost savings through the sharing of infrastructure and aircraft support crews. The DAOF provides common services such as machine shops, ground equipment maintenance, over-head cranes, warehousing, and mission planning. The Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a heavily modified Boeing 747-SP for astrophysics research is also based at the DAOF and will provide further cost savings to the airborne science program as it too shares infrastructure costs of the DAOF.
Scientists from around the world are also benefitting from the new facility. An integration laboratory was included to allow instrument teams to assemble, check out and calibrate sensors prior to installation on the aircraft. The lab provides for safe handling of chemicals and cryogens, ground operations of lasers and simulation of aircraft power sources. Located about 65 miles north of Los Angeles, the City of Palmdale has convenient travel and logistics services for visiting experimenters as well as access to the U.S. Air Force Production Flight Test Complex (Plant 42) facilities.
In 2009 deployments to sites ranging from Tahiti to Antarctica were staged from the DAOF. The versatile facility was also used to conduct ground-based experiments into engine exhaust properties and also provided lecture and laboratory space for the Student Airborne Research Program.
After over a year of modification and development, the DAOF was formally dedicated on April 9, 2009. The ceremonies drew local, regional, state and federal officials along with several hundred guests to the cavernous hangar and office complex. Steve Volz, associate director for Flight Programs for NASA’s Earth Science division participated as the senior NASA official and spoke to the assembly on the importance of the airborne science program to the nation’s orbital assets for Earth observation.