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December 23, 2002

Release: 02-70

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Note to Editors: During 2002, the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center helped pave the invisible highway for remotely piloted aircraft to safely operate in the national airspace shared with piloted planes, advanced the technology of clean fuel cell systems that could have wide terrestrial as well as aerial uses, and developed a better way for industry and government to keep tabs on hazardous materials for safe storage and disposal. A NASA-supported project demonstrated the usefulness of uninhabited solar-powered aircraft to monitor ripening crops to provide valuable information to help farmers increase crop quality by harvesting at peak ripeness, and other Dryden specialists helped evaluate the radical prototype X-45 Uninhabited Combat Aerial Vehicle as NASA works with other agencies to improve American security.

In March, several NASA and industry airplanes participated in a demonstration of Detect, See, and Avoid (DSA) technology that enabled a ground controller to respond to potential collision courses and send appropriate signals to an aircraft in flight to avoid other aircraft. This is a stepping-stone toward gaining safe access for a variety of uninhabited aircraft into the national airspace system. NASA and industry engineers successfully tested a pollution-free regenerative fuel-cell system that could enable solar aircraft to keep flying at night, and could also power electric vehicles. And NASA led the way in adapting a computerized system for tracking and accounting for hazardous materials that has become a cutting edge tool for others including the Department of Defense.

The solar Pathfinder Plus aircraft was used by researchers from academia, industry, and NASA’s Dryden and Ames centers in September to monitor sensitive coffee crops to determine the optimum time for harvest. And this year, two X-45 aircraft flew with NASA assistance. The X-45 is intended to lead the way to a family of uninhabited combat aircraft that could reach targets too dangerous for piloted aircraft. NASA Dryden’s Airborne Science Directorate collaborated with the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Jet Propulsion laboratory, and search-and-rescue agencies to evaluate specialized earth sciences imaging radar that could be adapted to help locate downed aircraft quickly.

(Editors who want to pursue story topics may call Dryden public affairs at [661] 276-3449, or visit the Dryden web site at where text and photos suitable for publication are posted.)

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