Mission Update

NASA Supports California Wildfire Control Efforts
10.01.09
 
The Autonomous Modular Scanner carried aboard NASA's Ikhana unmanned aircraft captured this image of the Gap Fire in Santa Barbara County, Calif., on July, 8 2008.The Autonomous Modular Scanner carried aboard NASA's Ikhana unmanned aircraft captured this image of the Gap Fire in Santa Barbara County, Calif., on July, 8 2008. (Image Credit / NASA/Google) NASA and the U.S. Forest Service again partnered to obtain visible light, infrared and thermal imagery of California wildfires in response to July 2008 requests from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services and the National Interagency Fire Center.

Ikhana, a NASA Predator-B aircraft adapted for civilian research, carried a NASA infrared scanning sensor on flights over much of California, gathering information that was used to help fight more than 300 wildfires that burned within the state.

The remotely piloted aircraft carried the NASA-developed Autonomous Modular Scanner on several planned flights. Originating from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center on Edwards Air Force Base, the flights covered an area from Santa Barbara to as far north as the Oregon border. The sensor, its telemetry and real-time data processing were developed by NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. The sensor, in an external pod under the aircraft's wing, detects temperature differences from less than one-half degree to approximately 1,000 degrees Celsius, revealing fire hotspots.

NASA pilots flew the aircraft in close coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration, which allowed the aircraft to fly within the national airspace while maintaining safe separation from other aircraft. The FAA allowed NASA unprecedented flexibility to fly these missions in support of the California firefighting effort.

The first flight on July 8, 2008, took the aircraft over 10 individual or complex fires along a route over the Sierra Nevadas, west to the Cub Complex fire in Northern California and south to the Gap Fire in Santa Barbara County.

The images collected onboard Ikhana were transmitted through a communications satellite to NASA Ames where the imagery was superimposed over Google Earth and Microsoft Virtual Earth maps to better visualize the location and scope of the fires. The imagery was then transmitted to the Multi-Agency Coordination Center in Redding and the State Operations Center in Sacramento, which distributes it to incident commanders in the field.

NASA was working with the Forest Service on a demonstration mission for later in the summer of 2008, but moved up its schedule in response to the widespread fires. This system was proven during a series of wildfire imaging demonstration missions in August and September 2007 and tested operationally during the Southern California fires of October 2007.

NASA's Applied Sciences and Airborne Science programs and the Earth Science Technology Office funded development of the fire sensor, with the intention of having the capabilities demonstrated in the Western States Fire Mission transitioned to operational agencies.

In addition to information from Ikhana, NASA makes daily images available from its suite of Earth-observing satellites and instruments.

Images are available on the Web at:

http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/fire_and_smoke.html.