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NASA Aircraft Images Japanese, Hawaiian Volcanoes
November 18, 2013

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NASA's C-20A Earth science aircraft carrying a specialized synthetic aperture radar system has wrapped up a short mission to image Japanese volcanoes. From a staging base at Yokota Air Base near Tokyo, three science flights were flown between Nov. 9 and 14 to gather data on Japanese island volcanoes.

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The aircraft carries the Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar (UAVSAR) developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The radar provides a measurement system that complements satellite-based observations by allowing frequent revisits and imaging of active volcanoes to better understand their deformation prior to, during or after a volcanic eruption.

The three data-collection flights, totaling 18 hours in the air, repeated previous paths flown Oct. 5 through 8, 2012. The imagery taken this month will be compared to those previously taken to determine if the surfaces of the volcanoes have changed shape, as this may be a sign of renewed volcanic activity that could pose a hazard to populations living in the surrounding area.

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Some of the more prominent volcanoes covered included (from south to north): Kirishima, Aso, Fuji, Asama, Usu and Tokachi-dake. Mission officials noted that the cooperation of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) – Japan’s space agency – was crucial to the success of these radar-imaging flights.

NASA's C-20A – the military designation for the Gulfstream III aircraft -- features a high-precision autopilot designed and developed by engineers at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The Precision Platform Autopilot guides the aircraft using a kinematic differential Global Positioning System developed by JPL in concert with the aircraft's inertial navigation system to enable it to fly repeat paths to an accuracy of 15 feet or less. With the precision autopilot engaged, the synthetic aperture radar is able to acquire repeat-pass data that can measure land-surface changes within centimeters.

The aircraft departed its home base at NASA's Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif., Nov. 6., landing at Lihue International Airport in Kauai, Hawaii, and Wake Island Airport before arriving at Yokota. On the return trip to California, the aircraft traveled through Wake Island and Kona International Airport, Hawaii. During the short Hawaiian stopover, the mission crew conducted follow-up radar imaging of Hawaiian volcanoes Kilauea and Mauna Loa to measure patterns of inflation and deflation.

The aircraft flew 53.7 hours during the 13-day deployment and data was collected on 100 percent of the planned science lines before the C-20A and its crew returned to Palmdale the afternoon of Nov. 18.

Beth Hagenauer, Public Affairs
NASA Dryden Flight Research Center

NASA's C-20A lands at Yokota Air Base, Japan, in 2012. Yokota was a deployment base for 2012 and 2013 science missions to image Japan's active volcanoes using a high-tech synthetic aperture radar system developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
NASA's C-20A lands at Yokota Air Base, Japan, in 2012. Yokota was a deployment base for 2012 and 2013 science missions to image Japan's active volcanoes using a high-tech synthetic aperture radar system developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (US Air Force / A1C Desiree Economides)
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NASA's C-20A refueled at Wake Island, a U.S. territory in the Pacific Ocean, en route to and from Japan for a mission to radar image active volcanoes to better understand their deformation prior to, during or after a volcanic eruption.
NASA's C-20A refueled at Wake Island, a U.S. territory in the Pacific Ocean, en route to and from Japan for a mission to radar image active volcanoes to better understand their deformation prior to, during or after a volcanic eruption. (NASA / John McGrath)
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Mt. Fuji was one of the Japanese volcanoes imaged by JPL's UAVSAR, carried aboard a NASA C-20A, during a mission to collect data that may show changes in the volcano's shape that could be an indication of new volcanic activity.
Mt. Fuji was one of the Japanese volcanoes imaged by JPL's UAVSAR, carried aboard a NASA C-20A, during a mission to collect data that may show changes in the volcano's shape that could be an indication of new volcanic activity. (NASA / John McGrath)
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