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Future Missions: Altair Western States Fire Mission Concept Plan

ALTAIRThe ALTAIR Western States Mission is a planned enhancement "follow-on" to the highly successful FiRE project. This mission is currently planned for demonstration flights in the 4th quarter of FY04. One of the driving objectives of this mission is to demonstrate successful, high altitude data collection by a UAV over a wildfire within National Airspace (outside perimeters of closed test range facilities). The purpose of the ALTAIR Western States Mission is to further demonstrate enhancements to the UAV platform capabilities, improvements to the payload data collection system, telemetry capabilities, and image geo-rectification and data / information decision support system enhancement. This Mission Concept Plan document will provide the requirements foundation for performing the ALTAIR Western States Mission demonstration. This document will serve as a reference for team members leading up to the demonstration mission. Modifications to this plan will be continuous, allowing for shifting requirements and flexible scheduling of the UAV platform, personnel, and the payload, due to uncertainty of emerging fire targets.

Western US fire locations.
The overarching goal of the mission is to collect and distribute real-time, geo-registered, multi spectral wildfire image data from a UAV operating at altitudes between 20K and 50K. The UAV will fly from either the NASA Dryden Flight facility or General Atomics facility at El Mirage. We anticipate a mission capability of 24 hours on-site over various fire events in the western United States, providing repetitive imagery.

In order to achieve these objectives it is necessary to initiate a rapid "ramp-up" of interim mission capabilities prior to the 24-hour mission. These would include full in-flight testing of platform, sensor package and telemetry technologies at high altitude (50K feet) for extended mission periods. A possible program would ramp from 4 hours to 12 hours to 24 hours.

Payload Requirements:

AIRDAS payloadAIRDAS payload:
  Operate without filters on channel 3, remote operations from ALTAIR Command and Control (C&C) trailer. The AIRDAS has been modified for high-altitude flight capabilities (up to 55K feet alt.) and potential long-duration mission capabilities (+12 hour operation). Further full mission endurance testing will be required both in the lab and aboard a UAV, simulating full 24-hour mission sensor endurance and performance characteristics. Alternatively, we will use the 12 channel multi-spectral imager, if available.

Telemetry: The image data telemetry system will use the ALTAIR on-board Ku-band telemetry system, if possible. Otherwise, the 500 Kbs C&C communications equipment flown previously on ALTUS (or some other COTS OTH telemetry system) will be integrated into the ALTAIR fuselage. The telemetry equipment will be tested for altitude capability prior to the actual flight mission. A carrier account will be in place to allow data transfer. The carrier account will be located at NASA-Ames.

UAV Requirements:

ALTAIR: Capability to allow stand-by mode for possibly +1 week, during major fire season in Western US to allow capture of natural wildfire in surrounding environment. Capability to fly to a 200 mile radius outside El Mirage or NASA-DFRC / Edwards AFB restricted air space. Mission capability to 50K feet altitude. Mission duration of 24-hours over fire incidents. Operation with or without chase plane. Pilots should be available for mission on stand-by basis (most likely during a one-week period).

Mission Parameters:

Demonstration Location Possibilities: First phase demonstration of Western States Mission to encompass full test of platform, sensor, telemetry and data handling for a "ramp-up" mission within 200 miles of the NASA-DFRC or El Mirage. Due to the high potential for "Santa Ana" wind-driven fires in Southern California and fires in the southern extent of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, as well as the southern extent of Coastal Range during the late summer / fall of 2004, we propose to conduct our mission over naturally occurring wildfires in the wildlands within a control range of 200 miles of the command center. Figure 1 displays the flight coverage area for mission potential within 200 miles of the NASA-Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards AFB, CA. This "potential mission area" should provide ample opportunity for collecting data over a wildfire in the Southern / Central California region.

Figure 1. 
Two hundred mile flight radius coverage capability centered at 

Figure 1. Two hundred mile flight radius coverage capability centered at NASA-DFRC, CA. Fires within the front range of the San Gabriel Mountains of the L.A. Basin, the Southern Sierra Nevada Mountains, and the Coastal range are within the 200-mile radius for mission consideration, subject to restrictions due to population or other constraints

The US Forest Service personnel will report the location of the demonstration "natural" fire to V. Ambrosia (NASA-Ames). Ambrosia will notify the operations team on standby and allow NASA-Dryden ramp-up for a flight mission within 24-48 hours of the fire notification. Locational coordinates of the fire(s) will be provided to the UAV flight crew for flight line and mission planning purposes. NASA-DFRC Airborne Science Office personnel will coordinate any FAA issues and clearances involved in transit to, over-flight, lingering, and return-to-base flight parameters for the mission.

Figure 2. 
SRTM data

Figure 2. SRTM data of 1° Quadrangle covering El Mirage, CA. (Quad location 34N / 118W (lower left corner)). Colored shaded relief of region.
Payload Data Collection:
The payload team, consisting of a sensor engineer (R. Higgins) and a telemetry/computer support engineer (D. Sullivan) will be on stand-by for deployment to NASA-DFRC if necessary for mission operation. The team will coordinate with appropriate NASA personnel on equipment space for the telemetry systems and payload operations systems in the NASA-DFRC C&C facility. This equipment will be in place prior to mission deployment (possibly setup one week prior to start of mission demonstration period). During the data collection mission flight, the payload engineer will coordinate with the UAV pilot and co-pilot on establishing flight lines for data collection as well as orientation of the airframe for proper telemetry operations, if necessary.

During data collection, V. Ambrosia and S. Buechel will monitor the data quality and initiate geo-correction, enhancement, and data dissemination of the AIRDAS data.

Information Delivery:
The AIRDAS data will be delivered to the website via satcom as both multi-channel color-composite JPG files and B/W JPG files of single channels. Single channel information will be either Channel 3 (short-wave TIR) or Channel 4 (long-wave TIR). Multi-band composites will be either 3,2, 1 combination or 4,2,1 combination. Data will be sent via telemetry as a JPG file.

Geo-correction and data dissemination:
V. Ambrosia will ensure that SRTM data for the potential fire demonstration area are available and formatted for use in the image geo-rectification procedures (Figure 2). This data will also serve as a potential data layer for near-real-time image draping over 3-D terrain data for visualization enhancement. Ambrosia will oversee these image developments and prepare the necessary SRTM data for integration. S. Buechel will oversee operations of the geo-rectification procedures. Quick-look data (unrectified) and geo-corrected will be sent to an FTP server at NASA-Ames ( and the UAVFiRE website. These output files will vary in size depending on the geo-rectification procedures employed. Geo-rectified output images will also have an associated GEOTIFF file accompanying the corrected image data. Media and outside agencies will then have access to the information through the WWW.
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