Ikhana Partnership Recognized For Effort That Resulted In An 'Eye In The Sky' That Delivered Critical Information To Fire Commanders
The Ikhana team recently received the prestigious Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer Interagency Partnership Award for its efforts in developing and using technologies that assisted in the successful 2008 California wildfire missions.
The Dryden-based, remotely piloted Ikhana flew with a cutting-edge-technology sensor, developed at Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., in a pod under a wing of the aircraft during the fire missions. Images were sent from the aircraft to fire commanders on the ground, said Thomas Rigney, Dryden's Ikhana project manager.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, the National Interagency Fire Center and the Federal Aviation Administration also were key partners. The team shared the distinction of the technology and partnership award at a ceremony in North Carolina May 7.
"The award is an affirmation that we are working well with other agencies within the federal government," Rigney said. "We are working together for a common goal, which is to help the firefighter identify fire boundaries and hot spots."
Dryden Acting Center Director David McBride said the team's work and the honor shows the value NASA and Dryden bring to customers and stakeholders.
"It's validation of what we're doing here," McBride said. "What this is all about is the ability to look at technology developed in the government sector that actually makes a difference in peoples' lives. What we have done in demonstrating the fire sensors for the Forest Service is show that you can fly over the fires and feed that data to fire captains in the field. That really makes the difference in protecting somebody's house, or livestock, or just public property.
"It also shows that things we do don't just stay in the lab. At Dryden, we try to make sure that everything, technology-wise, eventually makes it to the market and helps taxpayers."
At the core of this effort is the sophisticated Autonomous Modular Sensor, which can detect temperature up to 1,000 degrees Celsius. The sensor is a scanning spectrometer that acquires high spatial-resolution imagery of Earth's features from its vantage point on board low- and medium-altitude research aircraft.
Previous technologies were unable to penetrate dense smoke to seek the underlying fires, but lives were saved during the fire missions because the scanner can see through the smoke and to the hot spots, Rigney said. Because the Ikhana identified an unknown fire, lives of firefighters potentially were saved, he added. Also as a result of the Ikhana imagery, 10,000 people in Paradise, Calif., were evacuated after fire commanders reviewed the data showing the fire's progress.
In 2007, Ikhana missions were focused on validating sensor capability and the ability to be deployed in areas across the western United States, while the 2008 fire missions were within the borders of California, where more than 500 fires burned in June 2008, he said. Most of those fires were started by lightning striking dry brush and trees and flames moving fast through areas suffering after years of drought conditions.
NASA is anticipated to again participate in California fire missions this fire season, Rigney said. The Ikhana's ability to fly for long durations and send imagry overlaid with maps to fire commanders on the ground has been a valuable tool that possibly can save lives and property this fire season by identifying where the best uses of resources are, he said.
In addition to fire missions, the U.S. Army is using the Ikhana and Dryden's unmanned aircraft systems expertise to demonstrate some of the Army's sensors aboard the aircraft, he added.
Regardless of how the Ikhana is used in fire missions or research, the aim is to benefit the public and partner when it makes sense to maximize the investment in developing the aircraft. The current award supports the view that using the aircraft for the maximum use of partners and the public is paying dividends.
Dryden Public Affairs