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Collaborative Decision Environment Fire Mission

The second successful flight of the Western States Unmanned Autonomous Vehicle (UAV) Fire Mission series was flown on August 29-30 through six western states (CA, NV, UT, ID, MT, and WY). The NASA Ikhana UAV departed Dryden Flight Research Center (DFRC) at approx. 2:30 PM PDT and returned at approx. 6:45 AM for a total mission time of 16.25 hours. A total of 131 images were collected by the Ames-designed autonomous multi-spectral (AMS) sensor and transmitted via satellite to the DFRC ground station. Within a few minutes after images were acquired, the Collaborative Decision Environment (CDE) system made them available for viewing in Google Earth to mission scientists and disaster management teams. Users could also track the location of Ikhana in Google Earth during the mission.

The CDE is used as a decision support system for distributed mission planning, situational awareness, and data product visualization. It uses Google Earth as the visualization component, but also includes Quicktime video streaming from the aircraft and Jabber instant messaging for group collaboration. Users were located through out the US, including Ames, Dryden, Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA Headquarters, the National Inter-Agency Fire Center (NIFC), and incident command centers. Recognizing that most users monitoring the mission did not need to use the mission planning graphics layers, a “mini-CDE” KML link was created that only shows the current mission and its data products. The CDE was demonstrated by team members to disaster managers during the mission at NIFC and to the Castle Rock fire incident command team.

One of the technical achievements was the coincident measurements of the Castle Rock wildfire from both the AMS sensor aboard the UAV and the MODIS sensor aboard the Aqua satellite. As part of the CDE support for mission planning, Satellite Toolkit was used to predict the Aqua and Terra satellite ground tracks and MODIS sensor swaths during the mission time period. Cloud forecast data was also regularly processed to aid the mission managers in planning the flight route. Support during the flight included handling questions about using Google Earth and making user-requested software modifications in order to more easily interpret fire perimeter data.

BACKGROUND: The flights are part of the Western States Fire Mission, which is demonstrating improved wildfire imaging and mapping capabilities of the sophisticated imaging sensor and real-time data communications equipment developed at Ames Research Center. The sensor is capable of peering through thick smoke and haze to record hot spots and the progression of wildfires over a lengthy period. The data is overlaid on Google Earth maps and downlinked in near-real time to the Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, and made available to fire incident commanders to assist them in allocating their fire-fighting resources.

NASA’s Ikhana is a Predator B unmanned aircraft system built by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and adapted for environmental science and technology research missions. Each flight is being coordinated with the FAA to allow the remotely piloted aircraft to fly within the national airspace while maintaining separation from other aircraft.

The first 10.5-hour flight in the series Aug. 16 captured images of California wildfires, including the huge Zaca Fire in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties. Two more flights are expected in the mission series during September.

NASA PROGRAM FUNDING: Science Mission Directorate

Contact: Francis Enomoto


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