NASA and US Forest Service test wildfire imaging technology

NASA and US Forest Service test wildfire imaging technology


Washington, USA, 28 August 2006: NASA and the U.S. Forest Service are testing space agency-developed technologies to improve wildfire imaging and mapping capabilities. From August 29 to September 19, NASA will perform flight tests of its unmanned, remotely piloted aircraft. These tests will demonstrate the mobility, imaging and real-time communications capabilities of NASA’s unmanned aerial systems. Results of the tests will also be used to validate data from NASA’s Aqua satellite.

“These tests will be a ground-breaking effort to expand the use of unmanned aerial systems in providing real-time images in an actual disaster event,” said Vincent Ambrosia, Principal Investigator of the Western States Unmanned Aerial System Fire Mission at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California.

An Altair unmanned aerial system is scheduled to fly a series of four or five missions over the Western United States. The system is built and operated by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., San Diego. The Altair will collect detailed thermal-infrared imagery of wildfires. These tests will demonstrate the ability of unmanned aerial systems to continuously collect data for 20 to 24 hours.

“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 Altair is commanded and controlled through satellite communications. The satellite link will allow real-time data transfer of fire imagery to virtually anywhere on Earth. Mission data will be sent from the unmanned aerial system to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, and then distributed immediately to deployed fire fighters.

A NASA sensor system will fly on the Altair for the first time. This sensor was built to observe fires and other high-temperature sources. It can discriminate temperature differences from less than one-half to approximately 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. These temperature-discrimination capabilities are important to improving fire mapping.

Another new technology application being tested during the flights is the Collaborative Decision Environment, originally developed by NASA for the Mars Exploration Rover. It is an interactive tool that will allow sharing vast amounts of mission information during flights. The multitude of tools this technology provides can be shared and visualized by members of the mission team for effective planning and acquisition of imagery over critical fire events.

The Flight Management Team from NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California, is responsible for the aircraft elements during this mission. Pilots from General Atomic Aeronautical Systems will remotely operate the aerial system. NASA sponsorship is provided by the Science Mission Directorate, Washington.