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Lindsay Renick Mayer
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
(Phone: 301/286-7646)

Rose Davis
National Interagency Fire Center
(Phone: 208/387-5437)

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Caption for Image 1: The United States Forest Service currently uses RIPCom to relay remotely sensed data about the location and status of wildfires from this airplane to a nearby ground station in near real-time. The airplane is parked in a hangar at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

Caption for Image 2: The RIPCom system takes a ride on a Forest Service plane in this photo. RIPCom will transfer data from the USFS Phoenix instrument that takes thermal images and is capable of detecting small fires and mapping firelines of large fires. The RIPCom system is so compact that it can fit into the briefcase shown here.

Caption for Image 3: Scientists do ground testing at one of the ground stations. The low-cost system provides high-speed digital network access and can maintain a connection with an airplane traveling 300 miles per hour at 10,000 feet above ground. Fire managers at the ground stations will use information from RIPCom to plan the best way to tackle the fires and to alert firefighters to possible safety issues.

Credit for Images 1-3: NASA

Caption for Image 4: RIPCom was highlighted in the May/June 2003 issue of "Unmanned Systems", a magazine published for the unmanned systems industry.The article pertained to the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to fight fires. Though RIPCom is not currently used on unmanned aerial vehicles for this purpose, its design makes it suitable for such an application. Credit: Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (http://www.auvsi.org)

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August 21, 2003 - (date of web publication)

NASA JOINS FORCES WITH THE USDA FOREST SERVICE TO DETECT WILDLAND FIRE ACTIVITY

 

The United States Forest Service currently uses RIPCom to relay remotely sensed data about the location and status of wildfires from this airplane to a nearby ground station in near real-time.

Image 1

 

With the western fire season upon us, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Forest Service has enlisted help from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center to quickly and effectively respond to the needs of wildfire managers.

The collaboration between the two agencies involves the adaptation of NASA’s Remote Internet Protocol Communication (RIPCom) System, a digital wireless communication system that allows real-time transmission of remotely sensed data from an airplane to a ground station.

NASA will use the RIPCom system to provide real-time image data from a nearby direct readout ground station to scientists in the field using portable computers. The adaptations to RIPCom will allow the Forest Service to quickly relay remotely sensed infrared data about the location and status of wildfires and hot spots to interpreters on the ground. Infrared flights are ordered by fire managers and dispatched through the National Interagency Fire Center. The information helps fire managers plan the best way to tackle the fires and alerts firefighters to possible safety issues.

 

The RIPCom system takes a ride on a Forest Service plane in this photo.

Image 2

 

"While our job is to develop the Earth Science technologies to help understand and protect our home planet, these technologies can also be transferred to our partner agencies," said Michael Pasciuto, Advanced Planning Group lead of the NASA Earth Science Technology Office. "In this case, we are helping the Forest Service perform an important mission in support of firefighting that helps protect our natural resources and perhaps even save lives.”

RIPCom will transfer data and images in near real-time from the USFS Phoenix instrument to a portable ground station antenna. The Phoenix instrument takes thermal images and is capable of detecting small fires so that firefighters can respond before they become large, expensive and dangerous fires. It can also map the fire lines of large fires and find hot spots within the perimeter.

 

Fire managers at the ground stations will use information from RIPCom to plan the best way to tackle the fires and to alert firefighters to possible safety issues.

Image 3

 

Though previous methods of transferring this data manually from aircraft to the ground have been effective for the Forest Service, the RIPCom system significantly speeds up the process and reduces the risk involved in repeated landings and takeoffs. The low-cost system provides high-speed digital network access and can maintain a connection with an airplane traveling 300 miles per hour at 10,000 feet above the ground. In its low power configuration, RIPCom is capable of relaying data 15 miles away from the portable ground station antenna.

The Forest Service also will be able to set up several portable ground station systems and place them at strategic points, allowing them to map out several different fires in rapid succession. As the infrared specialist in the airplane collects the data from one fire, he or she can relay the data at one ground station and then move to the next fire and repeat the process.

 

RIPCom was highlighted in the May/June 2003 issue of "Unmanned Systems", a magazine published for the unmanned systems industry.

Image 4

 

"Due to the critical nature of this data, we’ve historically been quite conservative in the way we bring the data from air to ground," said Tom Zajkowski, Remote Sensing Specialist for RIPCom evaluation and implementation. "But the RIPCom technology is providing a much faster way for remote sensing analysts to receive the data, and is proving to be quite reliable."

The collaboration on RIPCom was the next step in a continuing relationship between NASA and the Forest Service whereby Goddard helped the Forest Service establish direct readout stations to acquire Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) data from NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites. Goddard and the University of Maryland-College Park MODIS Rapid Response Team also provide algorithms that the Forest Service uses to generate fire maps. RIPCom will relay image data from an aircraft that will complement MODIS data, but will be more detailed.

RIPCom was developed in collaboration with commercial interests. "Collaborating with the private sector allows the public to have more efficient and faster access to the technology," said Patrick Coronado, RIPCom project manager at Goddard. "In addition, it allows organizations like the Forest Service to have full control over technical maintenance and operations specifications."

In 2002, the U.S. wildfire season began early and was the second largest in the past 40 years. Over 88,000 fires burned nearly 7 million acres. The NIFC is responsible for monitoring and directing national resources, such as the infrared flights, to all fires within the continental United States, and by request to Canada, Australia and New Zealand through existing international agreements. "The NASA/GSFC Direct Readout engineers are the first group we’ve worked with to develop a technology that we can use for this application," said NIFC Infrared Specialist Woody Smith.

Even while tackling the current fire season, NASA and the Forest Service continue to improve the technology. Together, they are already in the next development phase of RIPCom, allowing for even greater connectivity. "We’re working on providing ground stations with Internet access from remote locations," said Kelvin Brentzel, NASA lead designer of RIPCom. "At that point, the strategically placed stations will not only be able to communicate with one another, but they will relay data to remote experts so even more minds can assist with planning."

NASA develops cutting-edge technologies for use by its Earth and Space Science visions that also provide for practical societal applications that improve life on our home planet.

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