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Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes Experiment (GRIP)
- Matt Graham
- Chris Naftel
- Gerry Heymsfield
- Elise Shultz
- Chris Shultz
- Cindy Bradley
- Terry Hock
Jacky Cortez and NASA EDGE Field Reporter, Shari Olson, talk to the NASA Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes (GRIP) experiment team at NASA Dryden Flight Research Center about how NASA is studying the development of tropical storms into full blown hurricanes. Hence, the “rapid intensification” aspect of the experiment. Oddly, neither Jacky or Shari asked to fly in NASA’s unmanned storm chaser, the Global Hawk. Perhaps there wasn’t room based on a surprising Global Hawk co-pilot. And it isn’t the Co-Host!


CHRIS: Welcome to NASA EDGE.

BLAIR: An inside and outside look at all things NASA. Mr. Broadcaster, thanks for coming on board.

CHRIS: I was just thinking it was the best of.

BLAIR: Oh, I gotcha. Franklin, what are we talking about today?

FRANKLIN: We’re talking about GRIP. GRIP is an acronym for Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes.

CHRIS: Which is a 2010 Earth Science Mission, our Science show today.

BLAIR: It’s also a really cool illusion to Star Trek 2, The Wrath of Khan.

CHRIS: With the Genesis project.

BLAIR: Which everyone loves.

CHRIS: That’s right. In fact, the cool thing about this Earth Science mission is that this experiment is actually taking a look at how tropical systems; tropical storms develop into major hurricanes.

BLAIR: And the real benefit of that is we can better predict how these storms are going to develop, and hopefully be able to evacuate and do the necessary things on the ground to prepare for them.

CHRIS: Now, for this experiment to succeed, NASA has adopted three special aircraft to fly into the hurricanes and tropical systems to take all that data.

BLAIR: That’s nice that they’ve adopted them.

[all laughing]

BLAIR: Spoken like a true dad.

CHRIS: Franklin, what are the aircraft they’re going to be using?

FRANKLIN: They’re using a DC-8, the WB-57, and the unmanned aerial system, or the Global Hawk, which is right over your shoulder.

BLAIR: Nice.

CHRIS: That’s right. In fact, we’re focusing on Global Hawk today along with GRIP.

BLAIR: With good reason.

CHRIS: Good reason because Global Hawk is actually based out of NASA Dryden Flight Research Center in California.

BLAIR: Another cool thing today, we were unable to travel out to Dryden, but, but, at Dryden is Shari Olson, who we’ve worked with before who is going to be our field reporter today.

CHRIS: And Jacky Cortez, who is our special co-host for the show, which we all know who Jacky is.

BLAIR: Yeah, she doesn’t need any extra introduction. Sorry Jacky.

[all laughing]

CHRIS: But before we actually get to the first piece, I do want to tell the audience that if you want to learn more about GRIP, the Global Hawk, the WB57, or even the DC8, go to the NASA website. It’s a pretty cool interactive feature on the GRIP mission. You’ll learn all about the payload, the mission. There is a video gallery and there are links to different parts of Earth Science.

BLAIR: I think if you visit the site enough you can actually unlock a feature that allows you to fly the Global Hawk wherever you want at any given time; at least, that’s the rumor mill.

FRANKLIN: Except over my house.

BLAIR: Too much traffic over there already.


BLAIR: You’d need a whole new air traffic controller if you’re going over by Franklin’s house.

CHRIS: Let’s go check out the first piece.

BLAIR: All right.

CHRIS: You’re watching NASA EDGE.

SHARI: Hi. Here we are at the Global Hawk Operations Room at Dryden Flight Research Center. And I have with me the Operations Lead, Matt Graham.

MATT: That’s right Shari.

SHARI: What are all these displays here? Could you go through some of them for us?

MATT: Sure. This is basically the cockpit of the Global Hawk. You would think an unmanned, autonomous airplane would be relatively easy to fly but there is a lot of information to process. It has a preprogrammed mission plan in the airplane with waypoints and it flies from waypoint to waypoint. But what the pilot can do is override those waypoints. He can tell it to fly a specific heading, and the airplane will change its flight track. He can also command the altitudes. This shows him what the airplane is doing. That’s all his airspeed and altitudes and headings. He can bring up a flight manual on here, and then he has another interface where he can issue commands to the airplane; put the landing gear up and down, etc. Next to him is the co-pilot station. He has the second pilot here to help him. He can bring up all those same displays on here and he also has another computer where he can bring up weather information and such. Way down here on this display, this is where our Range Safety Officer sits. He basically protects the assets within the Edward’s range. You see all those red dots on his display there? Those are population areas or high value areas that you’re not suppose to fly with an unmanned aerial vehicle. He also has displays. He can see all the other aircraft in the Edward’s operating area. So, he’s there to help protect the Edward’s range assets. He’s only here when we’re flying within the Edward’s range. If we go out into the national airspace, he’s not here. To the left of that is the Mission Director. And the Mission Director is responsible for the overall conduct of the mission. He also provides some safety oversight but he has the dance cards for the mission. He helps the pilot step through. Hey, this is what we’re going to do next. We need to go over to this area and he also interfaces with the Mission scientists in the back and helps pass on the requests and the desires of the Mission scientists to the pilots, so, the pilot can fly the mission and help achieve the objectives of the Mission scientists are looking for.

JACKY: If I understand correctly, you were here from the very beginning before we even had Global Hawk behind us, right? So before it even existed.

CHRIS N.: Right. This has been a five-year process to get to where we are today.

JACKY: Okay.

CHRIS N.: These airplanes will fly for 30 hours at a time. They fly up to 65,000 feet. On a full tank of gas, it could take off here at Edwards, fly all the way to New York City, fly back here and do it again without getting additional fuel.

JACKY: Without stopping.

CHRIS N.: Back and forth twice across the country.

JACKY: Wow. Okay. And I noticed too, that the wings are much longer than a commercial airplane.

CHRIS N.: Right. That has a lot to do with the altitude we’re flying. At 65,000 feet, the air is a lot thinner so you need more wing area to get the lift to stay up at that altitude. And that wing is also full of fuel when we take off.

JACKY: Really!

CHRIS N.: Half of the fuel of the airplane fits in the wing.

SHARI: And in back of us we have some computer screens. Can you tell us what they are there for?

MATT: This is called the Payload Operations Room. This is where all the Mission scientists sit during the mission and manage the payloads. We have the capability of carrying numerous payloads onboard the Global Hawk. For this particular campaign, the GRIP campaign, we’ve got some hurricane sensing instruments. We have a radar, a microwave profiler. We have a lightening instrumentation system, and all the scientists can interface through the payload system. We have a SATCOM system that talks to the airplane, and they can talk directly to the payloads. They can get their information from their payloads, real time on those screens. They can also send commands up to their payloads if they need to reconfigure something, if they need to change a frequency. They can send that directly up through that SATCOM system.

CHRIS N.: When you see the forecast of where a hurricane is going, each day in the forecast it gets wider, and wider where they think it’s going to go.

JACKY: Right.

CHRIS N.: I believe with the data they get from this whole campaign over the next month, and then years to come, they’ll be able to narrow that over time, that prediction. So, if we can cut down on that band that has to be evacuated, that’s a lot of people who don’t have to pick up everything, throw it in the car and leave. That’s a big impact right there. We’re also doing research over the Arctic. Back in April we flew to just short of the North Pole, and we stayed up there a few hours taking data, getting pictures of the sea ice up there, measuring ozone levels. Those kind of missions were helping the scientists better understand the global climate change that’s ongoing. This airplane has a tremendous number of uses.

FRANKLIN: Hey Shari. It’s good to see Shari.

BLAIR: Absolutely!

CHRIS: We haven’t worked with her in a long time.

BLAIR: Yeah. And it’s good to see Jacky.

FRANKLIN: Hey, hey Jacky.


BLAIR: Good call, Franklin.

CHRIS: The cool thing about that segment is Matt showing Shari all those monitors for the Global Hawk. Even though it is automated, it flies by itself. You still have a pilot, co-pilot. You have a safety officer. That’s pretty intense.

BLAIR: And they’re dealing with a lot of things out there during the missions. They want to be able to see everything and keep these assets safe because they are very expensive and highly technical. I’m not allowed anywhere near the facility when they’re running a mission.

CHRIS: I understand that behind all those video monitors were the instruments for the science aspect of it.

BLAIR: Yes. And later on in the show, we’re going to see more of the scientific detail but for right then and there you can already tell that there’s been an upgrade between what we saw a few shows back on Ikhana and the Predator; a significant upgrade in how they monitor the Global Hawk.

CHRIS: But before we go to a break, I do want to emphasize again, don’t forget to check out that cool interactive feature on the NASA portal. You can check out all about the GRIP program, the mission. There’s a video gallery. There’s also a photo gallery and links to the mission and to the aircraft.

BLAIR: And as we speak, Franklin, it’s avoiding your house right now, lots of activity. It says on here not anywhere near Franklin’s house.

CHRIS: Wait, wait. It says the Global Hawk says the grill is activated at his house.

BLAIR: There is a temperature spike in your backyard.

CHRIS: You’re watching NASA EDGE.

BLAIR: An inside and outside look at all things NASA.

CHRIS: Let’s go fire up the grill.

BLAIR: Yeah, absolutely.


JACKY: We are here at NASA Dryden Flight Research Center. You’re watching NASA EDGE, an inside and outside look at all things NASA.

BLAIR: And lots of scientific data. What’s really cool about GRIP, and Global Hawk is not that they’re just cool technologies and a cool mission but it’s all the cool data you’re getting.

CHRIS: But the instrumentation on board is advanced technology.

BLAIR: That’s true.

CHRIS: Some of the instruments have never been flown before.

BLAIR: Yeah, although it’s sort of a hybrid, right? Because didn’t we see some of this similar technology, not technology, the ideas?

FRANKLIN: The Hurricane Hunters down in Biloxi, we went down there quite a few years ago and got onboard the C-130 that’s actually used to fly into hurricanes and take some of the same measurements that the Global Hawk, and the other aircraft do with GRIP. They actually used the dropsonde.

BLAIR: Yeah, right here featured on our set, something similar.

FRANKLIN: Similar to that, yeah. I think we’ll find out that the version of the dropsonde used in the Global Hawk is actually a little bit smaller than the one used with the Hurricane Hunters but they generally are getting the same types of information.

CHRIS: And it’s automated too.

FRANKLIN: It’s automated. With the Hurricane Hunters it was manually deployed, dropsondes, and with the Global Hawk, it’s done automatically.

BLAIR: Yeah, and it kind of looks about the size of a paper towel holder, the core. This is like the quicker, picker upper of data for NASA.

CHRIS: And remember, we’re collecting a ton of data. We’re looking at temperature, pressure, humidity, wind levels, and in fact, some of these instruments on board Global Hawk will be looking to develop a 3-D map of the winds of a hurricane.

BLAIR: Kind of like a GigaPan from Desert Rats…

CHRIS: I guess you could say that.

BLAIR: Maybe. Or maybe not at all like that.

[Franklin laughing]

BLAIR: Might not be like that at all.

FRANKLIN: It was a good try.

BLAIR: Just trying to…. No free styling during the show. I apologize.

CHRIS: Tell you what, let’s go check out the video and we’ll come back.

BLAIR: Get an accurate picture.

GERRY: GRIP stands for Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes. What that means is we’re trying to learn how hurricanes form in their very early stages and also how they rapidly intensify. We have several new instruments that are technology developments. For example, the radar, HiRAP, that I’m involved with will enable us to measure winds within hurricanes. The horizontal winds are very important to understand how hurricanes form.

CHRIS S.: What we have here is an electric field mill. We’ve got six on board. And what they do is measure the electric field within the earth’s atmosphere.

ELISE: So we use this field mill here and what happens is this top spins and as this goes over, it will cut the charge coming back so the instrument does not get saturated. Then we can measure the fields within the storm.

CHRIS S.: So what we’re hoping to measure is any lightening and the fields associated with the hurricane as the UAV flies over any precipitation. Lightening is important with respect to a hurricane. It’s found mainly in two regions. They’re within the eye wall, near the eye of the hurricane and the outer bands. Lightening tends to indicate the hurricane is intensifying or strengthening because lightening is modulated by an updraft and as the updraft gets stronger, you get more vertical motion, and you get your strengthening of the hurricane.

GERRY: This instrument is microwave radiometer. It’s called AMSU, and what that allows us to do is remotely measure temperature, and moisture below the aircraft, down to the ground.

JACKY: Okay.

GERRY: And this is something we don’t really get from satellites with this high resolution. So, we’re very excited about that. It will also tell us what the rain and snow is doing.

JACKY: Okay.

GERRY: Map that out in the storm.

CINDY: We created a dropsonde system. It holds approximately a hundred dropsondes that are ejected out of the aircraft. They’re dropped through the atmosphere and they measure things like temperature, pressure, humidity, wind speeds.

TERRY: This is about a 6 oz. package. It gets ejected out of the aircraft. There is a parachute that comes out of the top of it, and what this does is gives us a complete profile of what the atmosphere is doing from the aircraft all the way down to the ocean surface. And it gives us very good vertical resolution, a lot of detailed information. So, as an example, in a hurricane if we want to know what are the winds right at the surface of the ocean, rather than flying an aircraft down there or having a boat down there, by dropping this sonde from a safe altitude from the aircraft, we’re going to make a very good measurement of what the wind speed, wind direction is right at the surface. More importantly, for the scientific researchers, what they’re going to do is get a very detailed profile, every 5 to 10 meters, exactly what is the atmosphere doing from the aircraft all the way down to the surface.

CINDY: Dropsondes are launched from manned aircraft…

JACKY: Okay.

CINDY: … regularly. It’s been around for decades but those are all manual. This is the first autonomous dropsonde system, where it is controlled remotely since there is nobody back there.

JACKY: Right.

TERRY: On the Global Hawk aircraft, this is the launch tube right here that it shoots out of. This is a little bit backwards but when the sonde gets ejected out, the sonde is going to be coming out here. It will come down here and probably tumble. About 3 seconds after it’s been ejected out of the aircraft then we release the parachute, once the sonde is a safe distance away from the aircraft.

SHARI: Is that deployed automatically?

TERRY: It’s all deployed automatically. We can hold up to 100 dropsondes with this system but that has required us to go from designing a big sonde down to a small sonde. That’s where we also then designed a very small version of our standard dropsonde, specifically for this aircraft so we can have a large capacity of dropsondes, and really take advantage of the fact that this plane can fly for 30 hours.

GERRY: We can do this all remotely and it’s something with the other aircraft we’ve worked with that are high-altitude aircraft, we couldn’t do that. So if the plane went up and our instrument didn’t work, that was it, we didn’t get any data. We’re very excited because this allows us to play with our instrument from the ground while the plane is flying.

JACKY: Without risking someone’s life in a hurricane.

GERRY: That’s right.

JACKY: Okay, excellent.

CHRIS: Hey, we’re back on air.

BLAIR: Yeah, hi. Welcome back to NASA EDGE. Sorry.

CHRIS: You having fun with the dropsonde?

BLAIR: This is really cool. I want to go outside and test this parachute out action even though the science instrument has been removed.

CHRIS: Well of course, they’re not going to give you the science instrumentation because they’re not going to let you handle it.

BLAIR: I thought it would be cool to handle the science instrument. Am I crazy? Am I wrong?

FRANKLIN: It’s cool.

CHRIS: But you know the cool thing about that dropsonde is when it’s released inside the aircraft, it looks like it’s a soda machine. You know where you put the sodas in the machine…

BLAIR: Now I’m thirsty.

CHRIS: Now you can decide whether or not you want a Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi. Do you want Mountain Dew? You want Sprite? What do you want?

BLAIR: I want an energy drink version of the dropsonde. That’s what I want. Really cool stuff. You can see a lot of the ingenuity that has gone into putting all these assets together to get the data at one time, like this really cool, bio-degradable dropsonde.

CHRIS: Yeah, it’s pretty cool but we’ve got to take a break because when we come back we’re going to get an update on GRIP and what’s going on now.

BLAIR: There’s an update?

CHRIS: Yeah, there’s an update.

BLAIR: Okay, so when our team left NASA Dryden operations didn’t just cease.

CHRIS: Yeah, they kept on going.

BLAIR: They kept going, okay.

CHRIS: You’re watching NASA EDGE.

BLAIR: An inside and outside look at all things NASA.

FRANKLIN: The show must go on.

BLAIR: Very good.


FRANKLIN: Welcome back to NASA EDGE.

CHRIS: An inside and outside look at all things NASA.

BLAIR: When Ron was out shooting this segment at NASA Dryden, Global Hawk was covering Hurricane Earl but since then several storms have been covered.

CHRIS: But Earl was pretty close to us. At one point, we were watching Earl very closely here on the East Coast, especially here in Virginia Beach and Hampton Roads area.

BLAIR: Hey, you were actually relying on Global Hawk. Get that data. Get that data.

CHRIS: That’s right. But we are very fortunate to have two people from Dryden on the phone with us. Matt Graham, who is the Operations Lead for Global Hawk, and our field reporter, Shari Olson.

SHARI: Hi guys. This is Shari.

MATT: Hey, Matt’s here.

CHRIS: Hey Matt, just give us an update on what is going on with the GRIP mission and the Global Hawk aircraft.

MATT: Well, the GRIP mission is concluded at this time. Basically the hurricane season is fairly well over. We’ve stood down from the hurricane mission. We did get to do some interesting things. As you mentioned, we over flew Hurricane Earl. We did eight passes over the eye of the hurricane, which is the most any aircraft has ever flown over or through the eye of a hurricane. We did some over flights in conjunction with the DC-8. The DC-8 was at a lower altitude gathering information at the same time we were.

FRANKLIN: Could you speak briefly about how the satellites work with the GRIP program?

MATT: Yeah. That was interesting thing too. They tried to time a lot of these eye over-flights with the satellite passes. And you know that infamous A-Train they were using which we also under flew for GloPac. Some of this was trying to calibrate their satellites. They were pulling in a lot of satellite data. And again we tried to time it so they have all the aircraft over one spot where the satellites are passing over at the same time, so they can compare all the data from all these instruments and see how well their satellites are doing, and get stuff from different altitudes. One of the really interesting ones we did actually was we went out and looked at… It started out as an Atlantic low, which was really a pre-hurricane. It was call AL-62. We went out and looked at that. That turned into Hurricane Karl.

CHRIS: Okay.

MATT: We over flew Hurricane Karl when it intensified from a category 1 all the way up to a category 3. There was a lot of really good information that we got that was interesting to us.

CHRIS: Is it safe to say that instrumentation on board the Global Hawk was more advanced?

MATT: Well, we had one, brand-new radar on here. It was called HIWRAP, which is a KEA and a KU-band hurricane radar. This was the first time it had ever been flown on a campaign. All the instruments are relatively new.

BLAIR: One other question, Matt. You mentioned going out over a storm in its developmental stages…

MATT: Right. That was a big part of this campaign. They wanted to see how these storms form.

BLAIR: Seems if you’re trying to figure out better ways to predict storm activity, it’s actually best if you can get out and over the system in the early stages. Is that right?

MATT: Exactly. That’s part of it. They want to see how they form. They also want to see how they intensify. I think we did a pretty good job of getting them the kind of data they were looking for. We were pretty fortunate on this campaign. They got to see one in the early forming stages, and they got to see one during intensification.

CHRIS: What is the future for GRIP? Do you think we’ll have another mission in 2011?

MATT: There’s going to be a new set of missions called HS3, which is Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel, that will be a multi-year starting in actually 2012. And we’ll be going to the east coast, deploying from the east coast, probably from Kennedy, so we can go farther out in the Atlantic, all the way over to the African coast to look at how these storms form and intensify.

BLAIR: Will you maintain some interactivity? I know your website, people can go on and track where Global Hawk is. Will you have that same level of interactivity with the new missions?

MATT: We will when we get to HS3, yes.

CHRIS: I’m assuming you have to register your flight plan with the FAA just to get out there.

MATT: Yes, we do. Because it’s a UAV, we have to give them a general flight plan 24 hours in advance, which is the general area where we’re going. A good example is Hurricane Karl was in the Gulf of Campeche. So we had to tell them that was where we are going and this is the route we’re going to take to get there 24 hours in advance.

CHRIS: Okay. So Shari, tell us. What was it like being a NASA EDGE field reporter for the first time?

SHARI: It was a pleasure. Getting the information out about NASA and particularly about Dryden was a dream come true. So, I thank you guys.

BLAIR: That’s great.

CHRIS: What about NASA EDGE co-host?

BLAIR: Well…

SHARI: I would love too! Is Blair going somewhere?

[all laughing]

BLAIR: Did you hear the enthusiasm in her voice?

CHRIS: Yeah.

BLAIR: At the thought of replacing me. That’s just unfortunate.

MATT: Hey, I think she did a great job. I think she’d be great for that.

BLAIR: It pains me to say it, but yes, she did a great job.

[all laughing]

BLAIR: No, good job Shari.

SHARI: Thanks.

CHRIS: Thanks a lot Matt & Shari for giving us the opportunity to talk with you and giving us an update on GRIP.

SHARI: Thanks guys.

BLAIR: Yeah. And unfortunately, we’ve reached the end of another exciting episode of NASA EDGE.

FRANKLIN: An inside and outside look at all things NASA.

SHARI: Come back soon.

CHRIS: Definitely want to cover this event coming in 2012, especially if finding a free space for Blair on the Global Hawk to go out to Africa and come back.

MATT: Well, you’ll have to fight Mr. Bill for that. You know, Mr. Bill rides on this Global Hawk.

CHRIS: Oh really, Mr. Bill does. Is this the same Mr. Bill from the 70’s?

MATT: Yes, that very same Mr. Bill.

CHRIS: Wow, he must be collecting social security by now.

[all laughing]

BLAIR: I bet he’s not as flexible as he use to be.

CHRIS: Oh no, Mr. Bill!

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