Both of NASA's high-flying Global Hawk remotely operated aircraft, seen here nose-to-nose on the ramp at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, will be involved in the Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel mission with one also the platform for the Airborne Tropical Tropopause Experiment, two of NASA's Earth Venture missions. (NASA / Tony Landis) Hurricanes, air quality, and Arctic ecosystems are among the research areas to be investigated during the next five years by a series of new NASA airborne science missions.
NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center will be directly involved in operations of at least three of the five competitively-selected proposals, the first investigations in the new Venture-class series of low-to-moderate cost projects established last year.
The National Research Council in 2007 recommended that NASA undertake these types of small, quick-turnaround, targeted science investigations that complement NASA's larger research missions. This year's selections are all airborne investigations. Future Venture proposals may include small, dedicated spacecraft and instruments flown on other spacecraft.
The missions will be funded during the next five years at a total cost of not more than $30 million each. The cost includes initial development and deployment through analysis of data. Approximately $10 million was provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act toward the maximum $150 million funding ceiling for all five missions.
NASA Dryden is among six NASA centers, 22 educational institutions, nine U.S. or international government agencies and three industrial partners that are involved in these missions. The five missions were selected from 35 proposals.
Three NASA Dryden aircraft modified for environmental science missions will be involved in a like number of projects. They include a Gulfstream III that carries a synthetic aperture radar that can penetrate vegetation and soil to depths of several feet, and both of NASA's Global Hawk remotely operated unmanned aircraft that have been adapted to carry atmospheric sampling instruments.
NASA's Gulfstream III with the JPL-developed UAVSAR radar in its underbelly pod will be the platform for the Airborne Microwave Observatory of Subcanopy and Subsurface investigation environmental science campaign. (NASA / Lori Losey) The G-III carrying the UAVSAR synthetic aperture radar developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory will be the platform for the Airborne Microwave Observatory of Subcanopy and Subsurface investigation. This mission will focus on North American ecosystems, critical components of the global exchange of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and other gases within the atmosphere. To better understand the size of this exchange on a continental scale, this investigation addresses the uncertainties in existing estimates by measuring soil moisture in the root zone of representative regions of major North American ecosystems.
The Airborne Tropical Tropopause Experiment will study chemical and physical processes in the atmosphere at different times of year to help improve our understanding of the processes that control the flow of atmospheric gases into this region. Water vapor in the stratosphere has a large impact on Earth's climate, the ozone layer and how much solar energy the Earth retains. Investigators will conduct four airborne campaigns with NASA's Global Hawk remotely piloted aircraft from bases in California, Guam, Hawaii and Australia.
The Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel mission will involve both of NASA's Global Hawk aircraft, flying high above major storms in the Atlantic Ocean basin on flights lasting up to 30 hours. Predicting the intensity of hurricanes is not as reliable as predictions of the location of hurricane landfall, in large part because of our poor understanding of the processes involved in intensity change. The Hawks will deploy from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia during the 2012-14 Atlantic hurricane seasons.
The Global Hawks are currently based at NASA Dryden's main facility at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., while the G-III is based at the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif.
The other two experiments will involve science aircraft based at NASA's Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, Ohio, Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., and the Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Va.
The Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment will collect an integrated set of data that will provide unprecedented experimental insights into Arctic carbon cycling, especially the release of the important greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. The release and absorption of carbon from Arctic ecosystems and its response to climate change are not well known because of a lack of detailed measurements. Instruments will be flown on a Twin Otter aircraft from NASA Glenn to produce the first simultaneous measurements of surface characteristics that control carbon emissions and key atmospheric gases.
Although satellites can measure air quality factors like aerosols and ozone-producing gases in an entire column of atmosphere below the spacecraft, distinguishing the concentrations at the level where people live is a challenge. The Deriving Information on Surface Conditions from Column and Vertically Resolved Observations Relevant to Air Quality experiment will provide integrated data of airborne, surface and satellite observations taken at the same time to study air quality as it evolves throughout the day. NASA's B-200 and P-3B research aircraft, based at the Langley Research Center and the Wallops Flight Facility, respectively, will fly together to sample a column of the atmosphere over instrumented ground stations.
NASA Langley manages the Earth System Pathfinder program for the agency's Science Mission Directorate. The missions in this program provide an innovative approach to address Earth science research with periodic windows of opportunity to accommodate new scientific priorities.
For more information on UAVSAR, visit: http://uavsar.jpl.nasa.gov
For more on NASA Earth science research, visit: http://science.nasa.gov/earth-science/
For more about NASA's Airborne Science Program, visit: http://airbornescience.nasa.gov/