High-altitude UAV glider swarms for geoscience research

Southampton University has announced that it is developing new unmanned aircraft for science applications and geoscientific research.

The project is expected to help overcome difficulties encountered by conventional observation platforms when obtaining detailed in situ data from high altitudes, regions close to mountains or the sea surface and Polar Regions.

This autumn, the university will be launching MAVIS (Massive Atmospheric Volume Instrumentation System), a new project funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, in partnership with the Scottish Marine Institute, and with the support of the British Antarctic Survey, the MetOffice and the National Centre for Atmospheric Science.

The university claims MAVIS will offer the possibility of a flexible measurement system that could open up new possibilities to atmospheric scientists, including more high quality and widespread measurements for accurate weather forecasting and monitoring of pollution and volcanic ash.

At the centre of MAVIS lies an innovative concept for an atmospheric sensing system: a fleet of small, very light, bespoke instrumented gliders are released en masse from a high altitude meteorological balloon over the environment to be observed.

During their autopilot-guided descent along paths optimised for sampling efficiency, they collect a wide range of readings, which can subsequently be converted into an accurate map of the quantity – such as pollutant concentration – being observed.

The MAVIS project forms part of the University’s ASTRA (Atmospheric Science Through Robotic Aircraft) initiative, which has pioneered a number of rapid prototyping and low cost technologies in the design of UAS for geoscientific research.

On July 22, 2013 ASTRA announced that it had successfully tested a balloon-launched drifter, a novel unmanned aircraft designed for oceanographic research.