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NASA Imaging Sensor Prepares for Western Wildfire Season
Image generated by AMS instrument Thermal-infrared imaging sensors on NASA's Ikhana unmanned research aircraft recorded this image of the Grass Valley / Slide Fire near Lake Arrowhead / Running Springs in the San Bernardino Mountains of Southern California just before noon Oct. 25. The 3-D processed image is a colorized mosaic of images draped over terrain, looking east. Active fire is seen in yellow, while hot, previously burned areas are in shades of dark red and purple. Unburned areas are shown in green hues. Image credit: NASA/U.S. Forest Service

USFS Cessna Citation jet
NASA-developed wildfire imaging technology transferred to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service (USFS) has begun test flights onboard a Forest Service aircraft in preparation for this year's wildfire season in the western United States. Image credit: USFS

Harris Fire imageClick image for full resolution.
Thermal-infrared imaging sensors on NASA's Ikhana unmanned research aircraft acquired this image at 2:24 p.m. PDT Oct. 25 over the Harris Fire in San Diego County in Southern California. Image credit: NASA/U.S. Forest Service
Airborne imaging technology NASA developed and transferred to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service (USFS) in 2012 is being tested to prepare for this year's wildfire season in the western United States.

The Autonomous Modular Sensor (AMS) is a scanning spectrometer designed to help detect hot-spots, active fires, and smoldering and post-fire conditions. Scientists at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and USFS engineers installed it on a Cessna Citation aircraft that belongs to the Forest Service. The USFS plans to use it in operational fire imaging and measurement.

The western United States is expected to have continued droughts this year resulting in increased potential for fire outbreaks, according to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) in Boise, Idaho. To help mitigate fire danger, NASA researchers and USFS firefighters are collaborating to improve fire management capabilities

"NASA technologies in the fields of data communication, aircraft systems, advanced sensing systems and real-time information processing finally have coalesced into the operational use that supports national needs in wildfire management," said Vincent Ambrosia, principal investigator of the Wildfire Research and Applications Partnership project and a senior research scientist at Ames and California State University, Monterey Bay.

Developed by NASA's Airborne Sciences Program, the Autonomous Modular Sensor acquires high-resolution imagery of the Earth's features from its vantage point aboard research aircraft. The sensor transmits nearly real-time data to ground disaster management investigators for analysis.

The sensor has been modified to fly on various crewed and uncrewed platforms, including NASA's Ikhana remotely piloted aircraft, a Predator-B modified to conduct airborne research. Between 2007 and 2010 the AMS flew on the Ikhana and NASA's B-200 King Air to demonstrate sensor capabilities, support national and state emergency requests for wildfire data, and ensure its operational readiness.

Data gathered during those flights was used to develop and test algorithms for scientific programs that monitor changes in environmental conditions, assess global change and respond to natural disasters.

The Autonomous Modular Sensor will be operated daily over wildfires throughout the United States, providing an unprecedented amount of data to the fire research and applications communities. USFS also will use the sensor to support other agency objectives, such as vegetation inventory analysis and water and river mapping.

"I see tremendous opportunity for my agency and other land management agencies to benefit from the application of NASA-developed technology," said Everett Hinkley, national remote sensing program manager with USFS in Monterey, Calif. "The AMS expands our current capabilities and offers efficiencies in a number of remote-sensing applications including fire, post-fire and forest health applications."

NASA will continue to support the Forest Service's use of the Autonomous Modular Sensor. Researchers with NASA and other agencies will have access to the data and can request mission use through partnerships.

For more information about Autonomous Modular Sensor, visit:

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Text issued as NASA Ames release 13-27AR
Ruth Dasso Marlaire
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.