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NOAA’s Grav-D & UAS Programs Team for a Successful SBIR Phase III Transition to Commercialization

Aurora Flight Sciences conducts gravimetry missions over California for the State’s High-Speed Rail Program.

The Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research’s (OAR) UAS Program and Nation Ocean Service’s GRAV-D Program successfully captured GRAV-D Observations with Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) through a joint Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) effort. In April 2016 industry partner, Aurora Flight Science successfully tested their optionally-piloted aircraft (OPA), Centaur, in an operational capacity for NOAA’s National Geodetic Survey (NGS) program. The testing effectively collected and managed gravimetry data which brought the project’s Technology Readiness Level (RL) to a 7.  

As a result of that success, Aurora was contracted to jointly perform gravity survey operations with Micro-G Lacoste in California in support of the CA High-Speed Rail project. Equipped with Micro-G’s gravimeter sensor, Centaur gathered data along the proposed rail lines in Northern and Southern California to help planners develop a comprehensive model of the earth’s structure along the proposed route, particularly around numerous fault lines, for better planning and engineering of the rail system. 

“Aurora’s Centaur OPA has helped make NOAA’s gravity data collection more efficient, affordable and environmentally friendly through the GRAV-D program,” said Aurora’s Project Manager Carrie Haase. This commercialization of technology constituted a successful SBIR Phase III transition and brought the project to a RL of 9. The NOAA GRAV-D Program will use this system to fulfill NOAA’s gravimetry requirements this Spring.