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May 29, 2002

Michael Mewhinney                                                                                       

NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.                                       

Phone: 650/604-3937 or 650/604-9000                                                 

Angela Bazydlo

Clark University, Worcester, Mass.

Phone: 508/793-7635



NASA officials today signed an agreement to explore development of a world-class center designed to investigate science and commercial applications of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) equipped with high-resolution digital imaging systems.

During a ceremony at NASA Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, officials from Ames, NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif., Clark University, Worcester, Mass., and the Girvan Institute, a non-profit organization located in NASA Research Park, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to establish a “UAV Applications Center” in NASA Research Park.

“We are delighted to be working with Clark University, the Girvan Institute and our friends from the Dryden Flight Research Center to explore prospects for developing this exciting new center here at the NASA Research Park,” said Ames Center Director Dr. Henry McDonald.

The charter of the new center is to conduct collaborative research and development, leading to enhanced scientific and commercial utilization of UAVs as high-resolution imaging platforms in national airspace. Specific activities will include planning future UAV image acquisition campaigns; developing procedures for operating UAVs in Federal Aviation Administration-controlled airspace; testing and evaluating high-resolution imaging systems; testing real-time telemetry systems for payload control and data transfer; evaluating data acquisition and control systems for real-time applications; developing and packaging automated image processing streams; integrating imaging payloads onto UAVs; and implementing educational research opportunities for university students.

“We are excited by the tremendous commercial potential of UAV research and happy to be working with NASA Ames and our other partners on this project,” said Clark University President John Bassett.  “We are confident that the UAV Applications Center will serve as a useful model for efficient and responsible technology transfer.”

The Ames-based research team is currently conducting a  $3.76 million project for NASA’s UAV Science Demonstration Program.  The effort will provide the first-ever test of the commercial use of a solar-powered UAV operating in national airspace. Dr. Stanley Herwitz, professor of earth science at Clark University, serves as principal investigator and leads a team of 15 researchers.  The selected demonstration site will be the largest coffee plantation in the USA, located on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

The project will use a lightweight flying wing called the Pathfinder Plus, developed for NASA Dryden Flight Research Center with partner AeroVironment Inc., Monrovia, Calif.  If successful, the project holds broad implications for any users needing high-resolution imagery in near-real time.  This emerging technology could be used to fight forest fires, evaluate environmental change, or assess civil emergency responses. 

Visit for details about the UAV Coffee Project.

“The agreement comes at an opportune time when NASA is working more with the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Defense to enable UAV operations in the commercial marketplace,” said Rich Christiansen, associate director for planning at the Dryden Flight Research Center.

 “This dynamic new collaboration will provide an excellent stimulus for accelerating technology development between NASA’s field centers, the academic community, and the private sector,” said Carolina Blake, chief of the Ames Commercial Technology Office.  “This proposed center will complement NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe’s vision and goals for the agency.”

Clark University is a private, coeducational research university with 2,000 undergraduate and 600 graduate students. Since its founding in 1887 as the first all-graduate school in the United States, Clark has challenged convention with innovative programs such as the International Studies Stream, the Strassler Family Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies and the five-year BA/MA programs with the fifth year tuition-free.

Further information about Clark University is available at:


For information about the NASA Research Park, please see the project Web site:

Publication-size images of the signing ceremony and UAV Coffee Project are available at:



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