Airborne climate research

NASA and Northrop Grumman have unveiled the first Global Hawk unmanned aircraft system to be used for environmental science research.

NASA intends to use Global Hawks for projects that will support its Science Mission Directorate and the Earth science community. Northrop Grumman will share in the use of the aircraft to conduct flight demonstrations for expanded markets and missions including integration of autonomous aircraft systems into national airspace.

The aircraft was unveiled at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Centre in Edwards, California. Speaking at the event, director of the centre, Kevin Petersen, said: ‘This marks the debut of NASA’s newest airborne science capability. These Global Hawks represent the first non-military use of this remarkable robotic aircraft system. NASA’s partnership with Northrop Grumman has made this possible.’

The Global Hawk Pacific 2009 Program will be NASA’s first use of the aircraft to support Earth science. The campaign will involve six long-term missions over the Pacific and Arctic regions in the late spring and early summer this year. The aircraft will include 12 scientific instruments designed to collect atmospheric data.

Global Hawk is capable of reaching altitudes of 65,000 feet for more than 31 hours at a time. So far, Global Hawk aircraft have flown more than 28,000 hours. Potential applications include the improvement of hurricane monitoring techniques, development of disaster support capabilities, and development of advanced autonomous aircraft system technologies.

Michael Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division in Washington, said: ‘These Global Hawks will provide superb new measurement possibilities for our climate science and applications programmes. This collaboration is a model for NASA’s wide-ranging Earth-observation activities to advance our understanding of Earth as an integrated system, which are critical to developing responses to environmental change here and around the world.’