The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has opened the door
to use of uninhabited, high-altitude aircraft for Earth Science
research studies by selecting a series of proposed demonstration
missions for further development.

The selections, announced late last week by NASA’s Office of Earth
Science in Washington, D.C., are expected to lead to the selection
next year of two or three of the proposals for actual implementation.
Eight of the 11 missions selected propose use of three uninhabited
aerial vehicles (UAVs) which have been developed or matured under
NASA’s Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology (ERAST)
project, managed by the Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards,
Calif. Five of these propose use of the conventionally powered Altusî
II developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc.; two the
Pathfinder-Plus and one the Helios Prototype, the latter two being
solar-powered aircraft developed by AeroVironment, Inc.

John Hicks, ERAST project manager at NASA Dryden, noted the eventual
winners of the selection process will pioneer use of UAVs for actual
operational science missions.

“This is an historical first for NASA Earth Sciences in adding UAVs
to its operational class of earth observation platforms that have
included satellites, manned aircraft and balloons,” Hicks said. “This
is a real catalyst to the technologies and operational capabilities
we are developing in ERAST, especially in developing more
mission-flexible, long-duration platforms than were available in the

“Although the Earth Science competiton was open to any UAV platform
with demonstrated flight capability, the fact that eight of the 11
selected proposals derive from the ERAST project is immensely
rewarding to the entire ERAST Alliance,” he added.

These remotely-operated aircraft, experimental in nature and capable
of extremely long duration flights at high altitudes, will carry
actual scientific payloads of NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise-a
program dedicated to understanding the global environment. Missions
proposed include a wide range of earth science studies to monitor
natural aspects of the planet and help unravel mysteries therein.
“Whether it’s monitoring the ripeness of the coffee crop in Hawaii,
clouds and their effect on our global temperatures or seeking the
mysteries of hurricanes and their deadly powers, these unique
vehicles will explore our planet’s horizons in unprecedented detail,” said Dr.
Ghassem Asrar, Associate Administrator for NASA’s Office of Earth
Science, Washington, D.C.

The 11 proposals selected for further development were chosen by
NASA’s Office of Earth Sciences from 45 submitted by principal
investigators in response to a NASA Research Announcement issued last
fall. The proposals come from three NASA centers, four universities,
a federally funded lab and one other federal agency. The
investigators for the selected proposals have been awarded small
grants to further develop their mission implementation plans over the
next three months to reduce risk. NASA will then review those plans
and choose two or three of the proposals for full development in
early 2001.

The proposals selected for further implementation plan development include:

– A hurricane monitoring study using the Altus, led by Robbie Hood of
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

– A cirrus cloud research study using the Altus, led by Gerald Mace
of University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah.

– An atmospheric water and climate change study using the Helios
Prototype if available, or in the alternative the Pathfinder-Plus,
led by Christopher Webster of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory,
Pasadena, Calif.

– An atmospheric chemistry study using the Global Hawk led by Adrian
Tuck, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the
University of Alabama, Huntsville, Ala.

– An atmospheric chemistry study using the Altus led by Paul Newman
of the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

– A thunderstorm study using the Altus, led by Richard Blakeslee,
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

– An atmospheric chemistry study using the Altus, led by Max
Loewenstein of NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

– A disaster management study using the Pathfinder-Plus, led by Albin
Gasiewski of NOAA.

– A coffee harvest optimization study using the Pathfinder-Plus, led
by Stanley Herwitz, professor of biogeography and earth science at
Clark University, Worcester, Mass.

– An agricultural study of vineyards using the Vindicator aircraft,
led by Susan Ustin of the University of California at Davis, Calif.

– A hurricane and storm study using the Aerosonde aircraft, led by
Peter Webster of the University of Colorado, Denver, Colo.

Dollar values for the proposals range from several hundred thousand
to several million dollars. NASA has budgeted approximately $12
million in FY 2001- 2003 for this effort. The aircraft identified in
the proposals include planes developed under government programs as
well as by private industry.

– NASA –


Still photos and video footage of the Altus II, Helios Prototype and
Pathfinder Plus are available from the Dryden Public Affairs Office
to support this release. For photo prints or video dubs, please call
(661) 276-2665. Photos are also available on the NASA Dryden Flight
Research Center internet website, URL:
NASA Dryden news releases are also available on the Internet at:
More information about the research announcement and selected
proposals can be found on the Internet at: