News

NOAA Completes FVR-55 Shipboard Launch/Recovery Operations to Measure Atmospheric Aerosols and Fluxes needed to Improve Climate Model Simulations

Article and Figures Provided By: Kenneth Vierra (Science Technology Corporation/UxS Research Transition Office), Patricia Quinn (NOAA/PMEL), Janet Intrieri (NOAA/PSL)

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During the month of March 2022, the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) and Physical Sciences (PSL) Laboratories used a newly developed uncrewed aircraft system (UAS) to better understand the chemical and physical characteristics of the atmosphere. The suite of sensors used in these demonstrations will improve climate and weather models by providing unique information about the atmosphere.

In partnership with L3Harris Technologies, an American technology company, NOAA has used the newly developed FVR-55 (Fixed Wing Vertical Takeoff and Landing Rotator) UAS to conduct shipboard launch and recovery operations for collecting atmospheric data with the NOAA “Clear Sky,” “Cloudy Sky,” and “miniFlux'' scientific payloads. Development of this innovative technology was initially funded through a NOAA Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) award in 2016, followed by a Phase II SBIR award and follow-on contract for the continued development of the UAS. Continued development and operations were funded and logistically supported by both the OAR Uncrewed Systems Research Transition Office (UxSRTO) and the OMAO UxS Operations Center (UxSOC). Participants from PMEL, PSL, UxSRTO, UxSOC, and L3Harris performed 11 fully autonomous ship-launching and landing flight operations (14.9 hours of total flight time) off Key West, FL to test and demonstrate the scientific payloads.

NOAA GML Scientists Successfully Test the “High-Altitude Operational Returning Uncrewed System” Glider with AirCore Science Package to 75,000 feet MSL

Article and Figures Provided By: Colm Sweeney and Bianca Baier

Kenneth Vierra 0 1696 Article rating: 4.0

Recent flight testing of the “High-altitude Operational Returning Uncrewed System” (HORUS) at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center and Edwards Air Force Base, California between May 13-25, 2021 marks a huge success within NOAA. Scientists from NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory (GML) and Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) tested the ability to launch and recover the uncrewed HORUS glider and its AirCore science payload with operations up to 75,000 ft above mean sea level (MSL). The reusable platform and AirCore instrument ascended into the upper atmosphere, attached to a balloon before being released. It then collected air samples vertically from 72,000 ft MSL down to a predetermined landing spot during its remotely controlled, designed, spiraling descent. Reaching speeds of more than 200 knots at the beginning of the glide phase, HORUS was able to make up for the downwind drift caused by the 60+ knot wind speeds it had encountered around 40,000 feet MSL during its earlier balloon ascent. The successful testing brings the NOAA/OMAO Uncrewed Systems Operation Center (UxSOC) funded; and NOAA/OAR Uncrewed Systems Research Transition Office (UxSRTO) supported HORUS development to a Readiness Level of 8. This marks an exciting opportunity for many other NOAA atmospheric research stakeholders because HORUS enables the deployment and retrieval of high-value, balloon-borne packages from a designated launch and recovery location, even when strong mid-level wind conditions can be expected.  With the HORUS, scientists can much more efficiently collect critical, higher-accuracy atmospheric measurements from all over the world to help improve weather and climate models, which have been limited until now because of the inability to effectively retrieve and reuse valuable sensor packages in areas where conditions and a lack of such technology have prohibited the realization of this novel concept.

NOAA Provides Forecasts for World’s Largest Balloon Festival using Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)

Article Provided By: Bruce Baker (ATDD Division Director); Photo by © Bennie Boss / Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

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The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is an annual hot air balloon festival that takes place in Albuquerque, New Mexico, over the course of nine days in early October. The event attracts over 500 hot air balloons and over 800,000 attendees each year, making it the largest balloon festival in the world. The 2019 Fiesta is scheduled from October 5-13. During this time, the NOAA Air Resources Lab, UAS Program Office, National Weather Service, and Aircraft Operations Center UAS Section are partnering to provide forecasts for the balloon pilots using a small UAS.

Using Drones to Help Improve Weather Forecasts

Article and Figures Provided By: Bruce Baker (ATDD Division Director)

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Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS), commonly referred to as drones, are becoming widely used for many different applications. One of these applications is to make measurements of the lowest layer of the Earth’s atmosphere in what scientists refer to as the boundary layer. Scientists are now using drones to gather critical information on how temperature, moisture, and wind evolve within the boundary layer under different weather conditions. Doing this helps scientists to better understand the atmosphere, ultimately leading to improvements in weather forecast models used by NOAA’s National Weather Service.

ARL, UASPO, and AOC Collaboration Set to Perform Groundbreaking Field Study

Article/Figures Provided By: Bruce Baker and Ed Dumas

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On March 4-6, a team of nine NOAA scientists and engineers will gather at Avon Park, a U.S. Air Force (USAF) test range north of Sebring, Florida, to conduct first-of-a-kind tests on two small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS).  The team consists of personnel from the Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Division (ATDD) of NOAA’s Air Resources Laboratory, NOAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program Office (UASPO), and NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO) Aircraft Operations Center (AOC). The two sUASs being tested are recent acquisitions by ATDD. They include a Meteomatics Meteodrone Severe Storms Edition (SSE), which performs a vertical takeoff and landing (Figure 1), and a BlackSwift Technologies S2 fixed-wing aircraft similar in design to an airplane (Figure 2).

Since Avon Park is a USAF bombing range, which NOAA AOC has utilized to test both full-size and drone systems in the past, its airspace is not subject to the same Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) restrictions imposed on the national airspace system. The relaxed limitations will enable the team to fly both sUAS(s) to their respective maximum flight altitudes of approximately 5,000 feet above ground level (AGL). Knowing each aircraft’s upper limit and the point at which the operator will lose visual line of sight are key to performing safer, higher flights in the future. During testing, the team will also employ a ground-based radar system integrated with geospatial software in an attempt to determine its capability to mitigate potential threats to the sUAS(s) by targets within the airspace (e.g. traditional airplanes, other sUAS(s), hot air balloons, birds, etc.). Essentially, this exercise will enable the team to measure the same kind of parameters used by air traffic controllers.

Taking measurements of temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and pressure (collectively known as vertical profiles) with a copter and fixed-wing aircraft at such a high altitude represents a new frontier for atmospheric observations and is currently being done operationally in only a few locations around the globe. Historical data is sparse, so there has always been a large gap in knowing what is happening with the thermodynamics of the atmosphere (e.g. the transformations responsible for weather and climate).  Flying the UAS(s) to higher altitudes will enable scientists to design increasingly useful experiments for the boundary layer - the layer of the atmosphere where we live, where weather happens, and where ARL focuses its research.

NOAA’s AOC and UASPO are working toward obtaining Certificates of Authorization (COA) from the FAA to fly up to 10,000 ft.  Once COAs are obtained, both of ATDD’s sUAS(s) will be used for vertical profile sampling within the lowest 1 km of the atmosphere. Higher altitude, more frequent measurements will greatly enhance operational weather forecasting by the National Weather Service (NWS), as well as future field intensive studies of the boundary layer.  The upcoming field test is paving the way toward eventually having autonomous vertical profiles occurring any time of the day in different locations around the U.S. Currently, there are only about 100 NWS weather forecast offices in the U.S. that perform vertical profiling. They all utilize weather balloons for this twice-daily analysis. ATDD plans to start working with its closest forecast office, in Morristown, Tennessee, to determine how more frequent, more localized vertical profiles help to improved forecasting. ATDD is also continuing to assess new technologies and instrumentation capable of utilization by UAS(s).

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