NASA’s Unmanned Airplane Takes Images To Help Fight Wildfires

NASA’s Unmanned Airplane Takes Images To Help Fight Wildfires 

10 September 2007

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USA — The images are processed on the plane, transmitted via a communications satellite, and then combined with Google Earthmaps.

NASA is flying its unmanned Ikhana airplane over California wildfires to provide firefighters with views through the thick smoke around Gilroy California.

The plane took off Friday from NASA Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California around 6 p.m. and flew over the Lick fire before heading north over Oregon and Washington to observe 10 wildfires. Pilots flew the airplane remotely from NASA Dryden.

NASA Ames developed the Autonomous Modular Sensor-Wildfire to see hot spots, flames, and temperature differences through thick plumes of smoke. The data that the Ikhana collects was overlaid on maps and downlinked in near-real time to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. There, fire incident commanders used the aerial images and maps to figure out where to concentrate their resources.

Jim Brass, a member of the Ikhana mission management team at NASA Ames, said the images are processed on the plane.

“After processing, the images are transmitted through a communications satellite to NASA Ames where the imagery is placed on an Ames Web site,” he explained in a prepared statement. “Then the imagery is combined with Google(GOOG) Earth maps.”

Project principal investigator, Vince Ambrosia of NASA Ames, flew to Boise, Idaho, to coordinate the 20-hour mission from the National Interagency Fire Center there.

The Sept. 7 was the third in a series of wildfire imaging missions conducted by NASA and the U.S. Forest Service. The flights are part of the Western States Fire Mission, which demonstrates improved wildfire imaging and mapping capabilities of imaging sensors and real-time data communications equipment developed at NASA Ames.

The Ikhana is a Predator B, built by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and adapted for environmental science and technology research missions. Each flight must be coordinated with the FAA to maintain distance between the drone and otheraircraft.

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