NASA Airborne Science: Missions of Atmospheric, Environmental Discovery
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Cameraman Tony Rutanashoodech and reporter Rachel Azevedo of KGPE-TV, Ch. 47, Fresno, interview a member of the flight crew of NASA's P-3B environmental science aircraft about the DISCOVER-AQ air quality survey mission over California's San Joaquin Valley during the Airborne Science media day at NASA's Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif., Jan. 25. (NASA / Tom Tschida
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NASA uses ground, air and space assets to monitor the environment, develop models of the world's climate and provide information for policymakers to make informed decisions.
News and social media representatives learned about the agency's overarching environmental mission and how NASA aircraft support that mission at the Airborne Science Showcase Jan. 25 at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center on Edwards Air Force Base and the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif.
Airborne Science enables scientists to answer questions that require the use of airborne platforms, said Randy Albertson, deputy program manager of NASA's Airborne Science Program. Instruments on the aircraft help calibrate and validate satellite instruments, support new sensor development, initiate process studies and develop the next generation of scientists and engineers, Albertson said. Missions are are flown all over the world in partnership with industry, universities or other government agencies, he added.
Airborne Science aircraft capabilities range from the high-flying ER-2 and the unmanned Global Hawk aircraft, to more traditional aircraft like the B-200 King Air, the C-20A (G-III) and DC-8 flying laboratory. Aircraft are based at different NASA centers such as the WB-57 at Johnson Space Center in Houston, the P-3B from Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops, Va., a B-200 from Langley Research Center, Hampton Va. and a host of aircraft located at Dryden's facilities at Edwards and Palmdale.
Developing instruments and using those technologies to learn about atmospheric composition for development of models to predict future climate change is a valuable use of NASA aircraft, said Ken Jucks, NASA's Upper Atmosphere Research program manager.
Eric Jensen of Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., principal investigator for the Airborne Tropical Tropopause Experiment, said the multi-year science campaign seeks to investigate unexplored regions of the upper atmosphere and how its chemistry is changing Earth in a warming climate. The mission will give scientists the information they will need to better understand and predict this phenomenon.
In addition, Hal Maring, NASA Radiation Sciences program manager, explained the NASA Earth Science Division seeks to determine if Earth's systems are changing and if so, can that change be predicted. Measurements taken from aircraft, satellites and the ground are used to develop and improve models that describe the entire Earth system, he explained. Measurements are taken from different climates and conditions to determine the atmospheric chemistry and under what conditions can it become a problem.
The science could not be accomplished without the instruments. Jim Crawford of NASA's Langley Research Center and principal investigator of the Deriving Information on Surface conditions from Column and Vertically Resolved Observations Relevant to Air Quality (DISCOVER-AQ) mission, said the science instruments flown aboard NASA aircraft "are not off-the-shelf instruments. They are one-of-a-kind instruments developed over a career."
Scientific instruments that are measuring air pollution from two aircraft over California's San Joaquin Valley between Bakersfield and Fresno in January and February during the DISCOVER-AQ mission, are enabling scientists to better understand how to measure and forecast air quality globally. Those same instruments are intended to improve the ability of satellites to consistently observe air quality in the lowest part of the atmosphere, Crawford said. If scientists could better observe pollution from space, they would be able to make better air quality forecasts and more accurately determine where pollution is coming from and why emissions vary.
David Starr of Goddard Space Flight Center, principal investigator of the PODEX mission, explained polarimetric measurements from three instruments seek out measurements in a different way from other research methods flying aboard NASA's ER-2.
In addition to being briefed on a half-dozen current or near-term science missions, event participants were able to see many of the aircraft used for in those missions.
For example, Chris Naftel, NASA Global Hawk project manager, explained that the Global Hawk Aircraft is ideally suited for environmental research because it is capable of flying 10 miles (16.1 kilometers) high at altitudes up to 65,000 feet (19,182 meters) for up to 30 hours. It also can fly 12,500 miles (20,117 kilometers) without refueling.
Decisions can be made as the Global Hawk is flying about where to send it to maximize data collection with its complement of up to 12 science instruments. It also can transmit information as it is collected to scientists on the ground. A Global Hawk was used on the recent HS3 mission to essentially complete a "cat scan of a hurricane," Naftel explained.
About 21 persons representing 14 news and documentary organizations and another 32 social media followers of NASA participated in the Airborne Science Showcase. More than 1.4 million initial impressions about NASA Airborne Science activity were recorded by Twitter from "tweets" posted by event participants that were then re-tweeted by their followers.
By Jay Levine, editor, The X-Press
NASA Dryden Flight Research Center