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NASA debuts Global Hawk aircraft for earth science

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NASA Dryden Flight Research Center director Kevin L. Petersen addresses dignitaries and news media representatives during unveiling of NASA's first Global Hawk autonomously operated aircraft at the center Jan. 15. This is one of two that will be used by NASA for Earth science missions and by Northrop Grumman Corp. for follow-on developmental testing. (NASA Photo / Tom Tschida)

WASHINGTON (BNS): The first Global Hawk aircraft system to be used for environmental science research was unveiled on Thursday at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. Under a space pact signed in May last, NASA and Northrop Grumman Corp. of Los Angeles are returning NASA's two Global Hawk aircraft to flight this year.

NASA plans to use the aircraft for missions to support its Science Mission Directorate and the Earth science community that require high-altitude, long-distance airborne capability. Kevin L. Petersen, director of Dryden said that the aircraft marks the debut of
NASA’s newest airborne science capability. “These Global Hawks represent the first non-military use of this remarkable robotic aircraft system. NASA’s partnership with Northrop Grumman has made this possible,” Petersen said.

Michael Freilich, Director of NASA's Earth Science Division in Washington, said that the Global Hawks will provide superb new measurement possibilities for climate science and applications programmes. “This collaboration is a model for NASA's wide-ranging Earth-observation activities to advance our understanding of Earth as an integrated system, which are critical to developing responses to environmental change here and around the world,” Freilich said.

NASA will first use the aircraft to support Earth science in the Global Hawk Pacific 2009 programme. This campaign will consist of six long-duration missions over the Pacific and Arctic regions in the late spring and early summer of 2009. Twelve scientific instruments integrated into one of the NASA Global Hawk aircraft will collect atmospheric data while flying high through Earth's atmosphere in the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere, NASA said.

Explaining the features of the Global Hawk, NASA said that it has many potential applications for the advancement of science, improvement of hurricane monitoring techniques, development of disaster support capabilities, and development of advanced autonomous aircraft system technologies. Recently, Global Hawks were used to help monitor wildfires in Southern California in 2007 and 2008.

The US Air Force transferred the Global Hawks to NASA in December 2007. Global Hawk can fly at altitudes up to 65,000 feet for more than 31 hours at a time. To date, the aircraft have flown more than 28,000 hours.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is participating in the project management and piloting of the NASA Global Hawks and the development of scientific instruments and future Earth science research campaigns.

NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, located on Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert of Southern California, is NASA's primary installation for atmospheric flight research. It has supported NASA's technology development efforts in aeronautics, environmental science, space exploration and space operations for more than 60 years.



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