A NASA research mission will use an unpiloted aircraft,
known as an “Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle” or “UAV,” to aid
Hawaiian coffee growers by providing the growers with
spectral (or color) images of their crops. From this
information the growers will know, down to the day, the best
time for harvesting the beans, bringing the best flavor to

Part of NASA’s UAV-based science demonstration program, these
flights will show the ability of this type of aircraft to
carry Earth-viewing scientific payloads in long-duration
missions at altitudes exceeding the endurance of a pilot in a
traditional aircraft. These capabilities will benefit both
U.S. scientific and commercial objectives well into the new

Coffee is the leading agricultural commodity traded on world
markets, and Hawaiian coffee is some of the finest in the
world. A key to producing excellent coffee is knowing the
right time to harvest the beans. The research team will use
the Pathfinder-Plus aircraft, a high-flying solar-powered UAV
built by AeroVironment, Inc., Monrovia, CA, to loiter for
long periods over crop fields during the harvest season.
Researchers hope the craft’s unique capability will provide
data the growers can use to select the best time to harvest
the beans.

After flights over the largest coffee plantation in America,
the Kauai Coffee Company plantation, the research team led by
Clark University, Worcester, MA, will brief coffee industry
officials on its findings. The mission will allow NASA to
provide sound science to a multi-billion dollar American
industry. This demonstration is just one potential
agricultural-management application using UAVs.

“This mission is both scientifically exciting and
commercially appealing. While validating this new breed of
aircraft we’re also providing sound science with real-world,
practical applications to the American people,” said Dr.
Ghassem Asrar, Associate Administrator for Earth Sciences,
NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC.

This mission is one of two projects selected from 45
proposals received in response to a solicitation issued by
NASA in 2000. The solicitation requires that the missions be
managed in “Principal Investigator” mode: Each mission’s lead
investigator is responsible for choosing the UAV best suited
for the experiment, and then managing all aspects of the
mission for NASA. NASA has identified approximately $8
million to fund two UAV missions over a period of four years.

The mission is part of NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise, a
long-term research effort aimed at understanding how human-
induced and natural changes affect our global environment,
while providing practical societal benefits to America today.
The Earth Science Enterprise provides the sound science
needed by policy and economic decision-makers to assure
responsible stewardship of the global environment.