The white lines on the above Google Earth view of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill area show the planned flight tracks for the radar imaging flights this week by NASA's G-III research aircraft. (NASA / JPL)
After a brief weekend respite, NASA's Gulfstream III aircraft with a sophisticated synthetic aperture radar slung under its belly is due to fly to the Gulf of Mexico area June 22-24 for a brief series of radar imaging missions over the Gulf oil spill area. The flights follow up on previous imaging missions flown by NASA's ER-2 science aircraft with the AVIRIS spectrometer several weeks ago at the request of NOAA.
The NASA G-III carries an active L-band synthetic aperture radar, or UAVSAR, developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and operated while the aircraft flies at about 40,000 feet altitude.
NASA's G-III environmental research aircraft carries a pod-mounted synthetic aperture radar under its belly. (NASA / Tom Tschida) The G-III will be flying the oil spill survey flights from staging bases in Pensacola, Fla., and Ellington Field near Houston. It was scheduled to depart the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif., Tuesday morning for Naval Air Station Pensacola, flying several survey lines or tracks with the UAVSAR during the six-hour flight. Two similar flights are slated for later in the day on June 22 and Wednesday June 23 before the aircraft returns to its Southern California base on June 24.
The prior ER-2 flights with the AVIRIS spectrometer focused on the thickness and composition of oil in Gulf waters. The current flights will center on the coastal areas extending from Western Louisiana to the Florida Keys that are being impacted by the spill, as well as significant regions over the oil slick itself. The flights over the coastline and oil slick are coordinated with ground and surface ship measurements.
Mission managers are hopeful that the radar will provide a unique set of measurements that will help improve discrimination of oil slicks over water, determination of the oil slick's properties, the extent of oil penetration into the sensitive coastal ecological zones and provide baseline data for studies on persistence, location and damage recovery processes for various coastal ecological zones.
The aircraft and its pod-mounted radar returned to Dryden June 17 after participating in the 17-day Canadian Experiment for Soil Moisture in 2010, or CanEX SM10, mission in Saskatchewan, Canada.
› G-III Photo Gallery
› G-lll Oil Spill Flight Video