Wednesday, January 30, 2013

NASA Social at Dryden – NASA’s Airborne Science Program

On January 25, 2013 some 50 spacetweeps gathered at NASA Dryden in California's Mojave Desert, looking forward to a day of Science Adventures as guests invited with social media accreditation. The hash tag for the event is #NASA_Airborne and this is the badge:

Spacetweeps setting up in the conference room 

We were about to learn a lot about NASA’s Airborne Science Program comprising almost 30 suborbital Earth Science instruments and 10 active missions campaigns. Many of the aircraft are stationed at Dryden and as such provide a fully functional and staffed “motor pool” for the science community.

NASA's Airborne Science Aircraft

Highlights from the day’s program:

Global Hawk

The Global Hawk is an autonomous, high-altitude science aircraft. It has 32 hours of endurance, a range of 11,000 miles and a maximum altitude of 65,000 feet. The plane can carry large payloads while monitoring and measuring remote locations on Earth that are not easily accessible by satellite and by piloted or remotely operated aircraft.  (So, yes, you could argue that it’s pretty much a sophisticated robotic spy plane that *will* find you on the Earth’s surface if it’s really looking for you.) At NASA Dryden, however, the Global Hawk is used for airborne science missions. The 44-foot-long aircraft is powered by a single Rolls Royce engine and has an impressive wingspan of 116 feet.

 Wing perspective

Photo credit: NASA Dryden
Group photo in front of Global Hawk

Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar (UAVSAR)

This reconfigurable radar system provides important data for studying earthquakes, surface movements and other dynamically changing Earth events, such as oil spills, landslides and glacier movements. The instrument is designed to be operated on an uninhabited aerial vehicle (UAV) but is currently being demonstrated on a piloted NASA C-20A aircraft. UAVSAR operates at 40,000 feet and will be conducting earthquake fault monitoring flights over Baja California in upcoming weeks.

UVASAR instrument

Inside the C-20A

 Spacetweeps at the C-20A

Surface, Water, Ocean, Topography (AirSWOT)

AirSWOT is an airborne instrument suite that will make the first-ever global survey of Earth’s surface water, including phenomenology, ocean and hydrology studies. The collected data can be used to produce topographic maps of water surfaces and flood plains at centimeter-level accuracy. AirSWOT will be hosted in a King Air B200 aircraft platform.

AirSWOT mission

King Air B200

Reflective King Air photography

Additional information about NASA’s Airborne Science Instruments and Missions is available here:

Stratospheric Instrument for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA)

SOFIA is the largest airborne observatory in the world.  It studies the universe at infrared wavelengths, capable of making observations that are impossible for even the largest and highest ground-based telescopes. The SOFIA observatory is mounted inside a modified Boeing 747. I have always wanted to see SOFIA and I was not disappointed. SOFIA looked majestic, even in the hangar, gleaming, looking brand-new in the muted light, proudly displaying NASA’s collaboration with the German Aerospace Center (DLR). 

Another famous modified 747 is also at Dryden – One of the two space shuttle carrier aircraft (SCA) used to ferry NASA’s orbiters around the country.  The SCA had been in service for a long time, required major overhauls and has been permanently retired to Dryden as a source of spare parts for SOFIA.

More about the science behind SOFIA:

Thank you, NASA Dryden staff for a wonderful day immersed in Science!

So what do you really do at a NASA Social?


Here is a collection of all my tweets and tweeted pictures from #NASA_Airborne in one place:

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