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NASA sends fleet of small drones to inspect noxious volcano plumes

1 year ago

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RYOT POINTS

nasavolcanodrones

Launching A Drone Ames research scientist Rick Kolyer launches a Dragon Eye UAV as part of a mission using drones to study an active volcano. (NASA/ Matthew Fladeland)

LOS ANGELES — Getting information on volcanic plumes can be perilous work.

The unbearable heat. The noxious gas. The jagged terrain.

So NASA found a new way to carry out the mission without putting its researchers in danger: drones.

Last month, a team of NASA researchers  sent three re-purposed military drones with special instruments into a sulfur dioxide plume emitted by Costa Rica’s 10,500-foot Turrialba volcano.

The team, led by principal investigator David Pieri of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada-Flintridge, launched 10 flights involving the small, unmanned spy planes.

 

Volcano Drones: NASA researchers transferred these three Aerovironment RQ-14 Dragon Eye UAVs from the Marines. The aircraft weigh 5.9 pounds, have a 3.75-foot wingspan and twin electric engines, and can carry a one-pound instrument payload for up to an hour within a volcanic plume. (Google/NASA/Matthew Fladeland)
Volcano Drones: NASA researchers transferred these three Aerovironment RQ-14 Dragon Eye UAVs from the Marines. The aircraft weigh 5.9 pounds, have a 3.75-foot wingspan and twin electric engines, and can carry a one-pound instrument payload for up to an hour within a volcanic plume. (Google/NASA/Matthew Fladeland)

 

The 6-pound, twin-electric-engine planes, called Dragon Eyes, recorded video outside and inside the plume. The drones also collected data from several remote-sensing instruments, sulfur dioxide and particle sensors and automatic atmospheric sampling bottles keyed to measure sulfur dioxide concentration.

“Scientists believe computer models derived from this study will contribute to safeguarding the National and International Airspace System, and will also improve global climate predictions and mitigate environmental hazards (e.g., sulfur dioxide volcanic smog, or ‘vog’) for people who live near volcanoes,” NASA said.

The Dragon Eye drone is built by AeroVironment Inc. The Monrovia, Calif., company is the Pentagon’s top supplier of small drones — including the Raven, Wasp and Puma models — that give troops on the ground a bird’s-eye view of what’s happening over a ridge or around a bend.

NASA’s use of the technology marks another way institutions have re-purposed robotic aircraft for non-military applications. Drone makers such as AeroVironment would like to sell their technology for use as police helicopters, crop dusters and hobby aircraft.

Currently, drones are not allowed to fly in the U.S. except with special permission from the Federal Aviation Administration. But as technology becomes more advanced and demand increases for using drones in the commercial world, the agency is moving to ease restrictions by 2015.

RYOT NOTE: Drones often scare the shit out of us, but this is an example of just how useful they can be! Those guys at NASA think of everything, but we have to make sure we keep pushing the limits. The National Space Society is an amazing organization advocating for the future of space exploration. Check them out, consider donating to support their far-out mission!

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drones Featured News geology nasa volcanoes
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NASA sends fleet of small drones to inspect noxious volcano plumes

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