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For more information contact:

Allison Martin/John Bluck
NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
Phone: 650/604-0444 or 604-5026 or 604-9000

Joe Walsh
USDA Forest Service
Phone: 202/205-1294

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Viewable Images

Caption for Images 1 - 3: Photo one: Airborne Infrared Disaster Assessment System (AIRDAS) imaging hardware aboard a UAV will capture an image of a fire similar to this. Photo two: Georectification, a process whereby the AIRDAS image is overlayed onto a map, allowing fire managers to see the surrounding roads and thus the quickest access to the fire. Photo three: The image can then be converted into a 3D format, which will tell fire managers if a fire is spreading up- or downhill. Information like this can greatly affect the decisions a fire manager makes in the field.

Caption for Images 4 - 7: Photos one and two: Remotely-piloted Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are a key element in the latest firefighting technology. The UAVs carry the AIRDAS imaging software in the aircraft’s nose (photo 3) and can fly over a fire without endangering a pilot. Photo four: The UAV flies over a test fire on a southern california air strip.

Caption for Image 8: This flow chart illustrates how fire image data will be transmitted to users. Piloted and unpiloted aircraft may send their information to a command center via satellite uplinks. From the command center, data will flow to several locations, including commanders at the scene of the fire.

Caption for Image 9: This graphic shows a proposed one day UAV mission to observe multiple wildfires in the west.

Credit for all images: Courtesy of Vince Ambrosia, NASA Ames Research Center

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August 21, 2003- (date of web publication)


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NASA is developing new fire surveillance technology in collaboration with the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service (USFS) that will increase the efficiency of monitoring wildland fires.

Using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and thermal infrared imaging technology and data telemetry, scientists hope to provide accurate wildfire data in a shorter amount of time.

"We're developing technology to assist the USFS in understanding, managing and mitigating fire occurrences," said Vince Ambrosia of NASA Ames Research Center, located in California's Silicon Valley. "This will decrease their time constraints on data access…and ultimately reduce risk to life and property."

The five-year project, entitled, "NASA Wildfire Response Research and Development, Applications and Technology Implementation," is sponsored by the Ames Ecosystem Sciences and Technology Branch (ECOSAT). It is funded by the NASA Headquarters' Earth Science Research program Research, Education and Applications Solutions Network (REASoN).


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The project is divided into three fundamental elements. The first element includes sensor development technology using NASA's Airborne Infrared Disaster Assessment System (AIRDAS), which Ames developed specifically for fire observation and control. This system is carried aboard both piloted or UAV aircraft.

The second element is a data telemetry research and development phase. NASA scientists will test data transmission options, such as satellite uplinks or wireless LAN technology, to find the fastest way to send AIRDAS infrared imaging data to the fire manager on the ground. The data will go directly to a Web server that the fire manager can access.

During a recent experiment using satellite uplinks, scientists were able to transmit thermal data to the fire manager in just 10 minutes.

The third stage of the project is data integration, which includes changing the data into an easily understood information format similar to that of a map. This format will help the fire manager decide where to deploy firefighters.

This strategy will lead to a significant improvement in tactical fire imaging, information extraction and fire management and mitigation efforts, according to Ambrosia.


Image 8


Wildfires are a major ecological concern in the United States. The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho reported 69,296 fires in 2002, from January 1 to October 28. During that time, wildfires destroyed a total of 6,707,562 acres.

The project is a strong collaboration between NASA and the USFS, and also draws on research and development from the aerospace, information technology and UAV science communities at NASA Ames.

"Even though it involves the ECOSAT branch, the project is an effort that will pull from a lot of people here at Ames," Ambrosia said. "It's not just within the branch - it's a cross-cut where many communities participate."


Image 9


NASA Ames has been actively involved in airborne fire imaging since the 1960's. In July 2000, NASA Headquarters selected NASA Ames to coordinate the Wildfire Response Team (WRT) for the Agency.

Ambrosia and James Brass, chief of the ECOSAT branch, lead the project. The pair has worked on fire issues for years. Ambrosia said this endeavor is "a natural offshoot of that work."

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