NASA is exploring the potential use of uninhabited aerial
vehicles (UAV) that look like large radio controlled airplanes
to conduct scientific studies of the Earth.

Long endurance UAVs have the potential to fill the gap between
satellites and surface networks in the integrated global
observing system. That gap is filled by the use of traditional
aircraft and limited by the endurance of the onboard pilot.
UAVs give researchers a persistent but deployable observing
presence, capable of focusing on Earth phenomena that require
in-depth, in-situ measurements. UAV data are used in
conjunction with the larger global datasets obtained from

NASA has entered into a three-year cooperative agreement with
Aerosonde North America, Inc., Denver. Through the agreement,
NASA is seeking to determine the feasibility of conducting
Earth science research using small, long endurance UAVs. The
Aerosonde remotely controlled aircraft offers scientists the
opportunity to conduct long duration missions by flying
continuously for more than 30 hours.

The agreement calls for NASA and Aerosonde to establish a UAV
facility at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Wallops
Flight Facility (WFF), Wallops Island, Va.

“Providing access to the Aerosonde long-endurance UAV
technology provides a number of exciting opportunities for the
environmental sciences community,” said Greg Holland,
Aerosonde chief executive officer. “NASA’s commitment to
flight operations provides an immediate service, and planned
developments will ensure the Aerosonde system evolves to suit
the future needs and requirements of the science community,”
he said.

To use UAVs to their full advantage, advanced technologies for
small, autonomous sensors, much like satellite sensors, needs
to be developed. NASA will hold a workshop with Earth science
researchers on Tuesday, November 4 at the University of
Maryland Inn and Conference Center, College Park, Md. to
discuss the initial focus of sensor development and missions.

The Aerosonde UAV will start flight tests at WFF in November
and begin research flights in January 2005.

The agreement also includes teaming between NASA and Aerosonde to support education programs. Middle school to college students will use the Aerosonde UAV for research. Students will design and analyze their own specialized missions and participate in professional science missions.

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