The synthetic aperture radar is carried in an eight-foot-long pod under the belly of NASA's Gulfstream-III research aircraft. (NASA photo / Tom Tschida) NASA's Gulfstream III environmental research aircraft returned to its base at the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif., Feb. 15 after a three-week campaign of radar imaging flights over Central America and the island of Hispaniola.
Using a sophisticated synthetic aperture radar developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., the mission imaged and measured bio-mass in the rain forests, volcanoes and Mayan ruins in Central America and displacement of earthquake faults in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Over the course of 22 days, flight crews and scientists aboard the modified business jet conducted 19 flights totaling 92 flight hours from staging bases in San Jose, Costa Rica, and Puerto Rico. Scientists recorded 153 science data lines during repeat passes over targeted areas.
Designed to eventually be installed on unmanned aircraft such as NASA's Global Hawk, the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar mounted under the Gulfstream III's belly is capable of spotting minute changes in the Earth's surface during precise repeat passes over targeted areas. An advanced research autopilot developed by NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center enables the aircraft to fly its repeat passes within less than 10 meters deviation from a previous track, despite its survey mission flight altitude of 41,000 feet and weather conditions aloft.
Following survey flights over volcanoes in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica on Feb. 11, the Gulfstream III research aircraft conducted two final imaging flights over earthquake faults in Haiti on Saturday, Feb. 13 and the Dominican Republic the following day before returning to its Southern California base.
After analysis of the radar data at JPL, scientists are planning to release their findings to the public in several weeks.
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