Text Size
NASA Ames Plays Key Role in the HS3 Global Hawk Mission
September 18, 2012

two women in headsets under a monitor showing a global hawk. Marilyn Vasques and Bernie Luna during 2011 testing at Dryden Flight Research Center.
Image credit: NASA
The Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel (HS3) investigation is a five-year mission targeted to enhance our understanding of the processes that underlie hurricane intensity change in the Atlantic Ocean basin. HS3 will determine the extent to which either the environment or processes internal to the storm are key to intensity change. Two Global Hawk (GH) Uninhabited Aerial Systems (UAS) will gather data this hurricane season for study by NASA scientists.

The HS3 mission is managed by the Earth Science Project Office (ESPO) from NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., which provides project management for NASA's Science Mission Directorate field research. ESPO is responsible for planning, implementation and post mission support for large, complex, multi-agency, national and international field campaigns.

Global Hawk missions pose some very unique challenges due to the fact that the aircraft is unmanned and science missions can last up to 26 hours. Every aspect of the flight, including aircraft and instrument status, meteorology, and airspace coordination must be continually monitored via satellite communications.

The mission targets the processes that underlie hurricane formation and intensity change. The Global Hawk aircraft help scientists decipher the relative roles of the large-scale environment and internal storm processes that shape these systems. Studying hurricanes is a challenge for a field campaign like HS3 because of the small sample of storms available for study and the great variety of scenarios under which they form and evolve. HS3 flights will continue into early October of this year and will repeated in the 2013 and 2014 hurricane seasons from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Va.

Marilyn Vasques, HS3 Project Manager, and Bernadette Luna, her deputy, have worked with Global Hawk management at Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif. and the Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Va., staff to prepare for this mission. "We integrated and flew one of the Global Hawks last summer to reduce our risk this year," said Vasques.

If needed, the Global Hawk could fly to as far as Africa, or more than 50 other countries, to support an HS3 mission .These long duration flights also require lengthy work shifts to manage the science activities around the clock.

"Historically, when we collect science data from an aircraft platform, we only acquire small snapshots from each flight due to limited aircraft flight duration. With prior approval of almost 50 countries, the Global Hawk's long duration enables science to cover vast distances from Virginia to Puerto Rico to Africa and back. Data can be streamed back to the scientists in real time, enabling the flight to focus on specific areas of interest," Vasques explained.

The NASA Global Hawk AV-6, the first of the two Global Hawks assigned to this mission, arrived at Wallops Flight Facility Friday Sept 7, 2012. It took off from Dryden at 4:19 p.m. EDT Thursday evening Sept 6, 2012, and arrived at Wallops approximately 19 hours later at 11:37 EDT. The team was able to capitalize on the transit flight and fly around the perimeter of Hurricane Leslie to collect scientific data along the way.

"This is quite a milestone since this is the first time one of NASA's Global Hawks has taken off from one location and landed in another," said Vasques. "This first deployment will be full of firsts."

During the transit, the Global Hawk took off with command and control at Dryden. During the flight, control was passed to the mobile ground stations at Wallops. All science operations were controlled from the Wallops ground station.

The Global Hawk has already flown two science flights studying Hurricane Nadine and is planning another science flight later this week.

The second Global Hawk has not yet deployed to Wallops. This is the first time it is being outfitted for a science mission.

"As you might guess, there are many factors involved in building the infrastructure for science data collection as well as integrating instruments for the first time on any aircraft," said Bernadette Luna, deputy Project Manager.

Plans are that the second Global Hawk will arrive at Wallops Flight Facility near the end of September. The pair will take turns flying storms for the remainder of this deployment as well as deployments during the hurricane seasons of 2013 and 2014.

"This is a project of global significance. Our planet is changing. With the data from this mission, modelers will improve their modeling techniques. We hope to learn what makes a hurricane intensify, and better predict if it will intensify. That tells people how to respond," said Luna.

HS3 is an Earth Venture mission funded by NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Earth Venture missions are managed by NASA's Earth System Science Pathfinder Program at the agency's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. The HS3 mission is managed by the Earth Science Project Office at NASA's Ames Research Center.

For more about the HS3 mission, visit:

Image Token: 
Image Token: 
Page Last Updated: July 28th, 2013
Page Editor: NASA Administrator