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NOAA Completes FVR-55 Operations in Marine Stratocumulus Clouds to Measure Atmospheric Aerosol Properties needed to Improve Climate Model Simulations

ARTICLE AND FIGURES PROVIDED BY: KENNETH VIERRA (SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY CORPORATION/UXS RESEARCH TRANSITION OFFICE) AND PATRICIA QUINN (NOAA/PMEL)

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Between August 8th and 18th, 2022, the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) and the University of Washington Cooperative Institute for Climate, Ocean, and Ecosystem Studies (CICOES) used the L3Harris Fixed Wing Vertical Takeoff and Landing Rotator (FVR-55) uncrewed aerial system (UAS) to measure aerosol and cloud vertical profiles with the NOAA Clear Sky and Cloudy Sky scientific payloads (descriptions provided below). The sensors in the payloads measure aerosol properties relevant to aerosol direct radiative forcing and aerosol - cloud interactions. The mission was supported, in part, by NOAA’s Earth Radiation Budget (ERB) program that was initiated to investigate natural and human activities that might alter the reflectivity of marine boundary clouds. The UAS measurements reported here will provide critical information on the processes that lead to the brightening of marine clouds with a potential cooling of the Earth’s surface.

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 PSL and L3Harris Complete miniFlux Payload Integration and Flight Tests

Article Provided By: Kenneth Vierra (Cherokee Nation Strategic Programs/UxS Research Transition Office), Gijs de Boer (NOAA PSL/CIRES/CU) and Janet Intrieri (NOAA/PSL)

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With funding and logistical support from the NOAA Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) Uncrewed Systems Research Transition Office (UxSRTO), in addition to the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) Clear and Cloudy Sky payloads, the NOAA OAR Physical Sciences Laboratory (PSL), together with partners at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) and Integrated Remote and In Situ Sensing (IRISS) program at the University of Colorado Boulder developed the miniFlux sensor suite for operation on the L3Harris Latitude Fixed Wing Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) Rotator (FVR-55).  miniFlux is a collection of complementary systems and sensors selected to provide robust and accurate measurements of atmospheric thermodynamic and kinematic states. miniFlux carries sensors to make redundant measurements of temperature, humidity, and pressure, in addition to nadir and zenith thermal IR temperatures and sensors to provide a three dimensional wind measurement. In combination, these measurements, combined with accurate inertial position and orientation measurements collected by the miniFlux system, enable for estimation of atmospheric energy transfer conditions.

On May 6, 2021 L3Harris and PSL successfully completed payload integration and flight testing at the Florence, AZ test flight area. The miniFlux was mounted on the wing of the FVR-55.

Final engineering checkout is planned with L3Harris Latitude FVR-55 and NOAA PMEL and PSL payloads on the Commercial 96' vessel TowBoatU.S. Richard L. Becker, this summer.  NOAA staff from UxSRTO, OMAO UxSOC, PMEL, and PSL will be on the boat as well as the UAS team from L3Harris.

NOAA PMEL and L3Harris Complete Cloudy Sky and Clear Sky Payload Integration and Flight Tests

Article Provided By: Kenneth Vierra (Cherokee Nation Strategic Programs/UxS Research Transition Office), Patricia Quinn (NOAA/PMEL), Tim Bates (CICOES University of Washington/PMEL), Derek Coffman (NOAA/PMEL)

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As a continuation of the research, the NOAA Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) UxS Research Transition Office awarded L3Harris a Phase III follow-on contract for the continued development of the FVR-55. This contract is to support shipboard operations and scientific payload integration on the FVR-55. Flight tests were completed on February 17, 2020 off the M/V Richard L. Becker out of Fort Lauderdale, FL to demonstrate autonomous takeoff and recovery from a moving vessel at-sea.  L3Harris completed all objectives and demonstrated fully autonomous flight using Hybrid Quadrotor (HQ) technology from a moving ship with limited deck space.

On March 22-26, 2021 the NOAA PMEL team joined the L3Harris staff at their facility in Tucson, AZ to complete bench and initial flight testing (Florence, AZ test flight area) of the Cloudy and Clear Sky payloads to verify the payloads functionality. The two payloads measure the aerosol and cloud properties required for the observation of aerosol direct radiative effects (Clear Sky payload) and impacts of aerosols on clouds (Cloudy Sky Payload).

L3Harris Successfully Completes Autonomous Shipboard Launch and Recovery of FVR-55 Unmanned Aircraft

ARTICLE AND FIGURES PROVIDED BY KENNETH VIERRA

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On February 17, 2020, flight tests were conducted by L3Harris on the M/V Richard L. Becker off Fort Lauderdale, FL to demonstrate autonomous takeoff and recovery from a moving vessel at-sea.  L3Harris completed all objectives and demonstrated fully autonomous flight using Hybrid Quadrotor (HQ) technology from a moving ship with limited deck space. The FVR-55 took off from the ship vertically, switched to fixed wing flight, and returned and landed vertically on the ship autonomously (no external pilot control inputs required).

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