NASA's G-III research aircraft carrying the pod-mounted synthetic aperture radar. (NASA photo) At the request of the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, NASA is conducting radar-imaging missions by its Gulfstream III environmental research aircraft over areas of the lower Mississippi River to determine the structural integrity of the levee system.
The modified G-III business jet, carrying a synthetic aperture radar developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif, flew missions in April and early June to acquire comparative data over the Mississippi's levee system near New Orleans. A third flight series is tentatively slated for June 22.
The flights had been requested by Gerald Bawden of the U.S. Geological Survey as part of a multi-agency collaborative effort on levee stability and situational awareness development for those agencies. These flights complement a multi-year Levee Assessment by Remote Sensing project led by Mississippi State University professor James Aanstoos and with a similar levee stability project in California. The study is intended to rapidly assess the condition of levees and to identify, classify, and prioritize potential problems, according to Aanstoos.
The synthetic aperture radar developed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory is housed in this pod slung beneath the fuselage of NASA's G-III research aircraft. (NASA / Tony Landis) During the 11-hour, two-flight mission June 7, the G-III flew eight precise flight tracks or data lines over the levee system before returning to its base of operations at the NASA Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif.
The G-III is equipped with a NASA-developed Precision Platform Autopilot that enables it to fly within 16 feet of the flight path flown on earlier missions while the aircraft is flying above 40,000 feet altitude. That accuracy allows the L-band radar, mounted in a pod below the aircraft's fuselage, to accurately record any displacement of the terrain beneath that may have occurred since the earlier imaging mission.
NASA's Airborne Science program, Earth Science Division in Washington, funds operation of the G-III research aircraft and its synthetic aperture radar, along with other NASA research aircraft.
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