A partnership primarily involving Clark University, NASA Ames and AeroVironment, Inc. is demonstrating the use of a slow-flying, long-endurance, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for high spatial resolution earth resource imaging. In September 2002, NASA’s solar-powered UAV Pathfinder-Plus (PF+) will collect imagery over the Kauai Coffee Plantation (KCP), the largest coffee concern in the USA. Imaging payloads will be housed in environmental pods developed by Ames for previous missions of the prototype Pathfinder UAV. Images will be downlinked in near-real time for viewing, Level-A information extraction will be completed within 24 hr of flight, and Level-B applied research will be conducted subsequent to the campaign.
Two commercial, off-the-shelf high-resolution digital camera systems have been purchased and interfaced for airborne operation. The camera systems include a Hasselblad camera body equipped with a Kodak Professional DCS Pro Back for RGB imaging, and a DuncanTech MS3100 for multispectral narrow-band imaging in the visible and near infrared.
The acquired digital camera systems were tested locally using a manned twin-engine Piper Navajo aircraft over the flower plantations in Gilroy, California. These California-based payload test flights were conducted on July 27th and August 10th 2001. The tests verified that the camera systems operated as required under manual control.
An extensive payload test on Kauai, involving five flights on separate days, was performed above KCP over the period October 6-13, 2001. The objectives were to further test camera operation, test the telemetry system, and collect imagery for subsequent use in algorithm development.
Integration of the imaging payloads onto PF+ was accomplished in the October 2001-March 2002 timeframe. The payloads were downsized and integrated into existing environmental instrument pods.
With the assistance of Glen Witt (TAAC of New Mexico State University), an application for a Certificate of Authorization (COA) to fly PF+ in National Airspace (NAS) was prepared and submitted to the FAA Western Regional Office. Approval of this Certificate is forthcoming. Honolulu air traffic controllers will monitor the mission in NAS. A Memorandum of Agreement has been established between Clark University, the FAA Honolulu Control Facility, and the Pacific Missile Range Facility to establish responsibilities and define procedures for PF+ operation in NAS.