NASA AND FOREST SERVICE TEST THERMAL SENSORS DURING WILDFIRES
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the U.S. Forest Service tested the aerospace agency’s unmanned aerial vehicles armed with thermal-imaging sensors in order to aid firefighters tasked with combating October’s Southern California wildfires.
During the wildfires, NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif., tested a remotely piloted unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) system — dubbed Ikhana and manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GAAS) — to demonstrate imaging and real-time communications capabilities, and to test a series of thermal-imaging sensors. Specifically, the Autonomous Modular Scanner thermal-imaging sensor, designed and built at the NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, was configured to observe fires and other high-temperature sources. The scanner can detect temperature differences from less than one-half degree to approximately 1000° F, a level of accuracy that is important in order to improve fire mapping, said Everett Hinkley, liaison and special project program manager for the Forest Service.
These types of thermal-imaging sensors were attached to the wing mount of a UAV and captured images of the wildfires while flying more than 1200 miles over a 10-hour period, Hinkley said. NASA and GAAS pilots operated the aircraft from a ground control station at Dryden, which is located at Edwards Air Force Base.
The test demonstrated the ability of UAVs to collect thermal-imaging data continuously for 12 to 24 hours, Hinkley said. A SATCOM satellite link supported the real-time transfer of the data, which was simultaneously available to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho; as a Google Earth overlay; and through NASA’s Open Geospatial Consortium Web services.
“We flew the vehicle four out of the six fire days, and it was a very beneficial to the incident command on the ground,” Hinkley said.
Scientists from both agencies also are testing the Collaborative Decision Environment software, a new application originally developed by NASA for the Mars Exploration Rovers. The software acts as an interactive tool that lets command-and-control personnel share imagery of critical fire events with members of the response team, Hinkley said.