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The Western States Fire Mission 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. Data is overlaid on Google Earth maps and downlinked in near real-time to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, and made available to fire incident commanders to assist them in allocating their firefighting 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 coordinated with the FAA to allow the remotely piloted aircraft to fly within the national airspace while maintaining separation from other aircraft.

At the request of the California Office of Emergency Services and the National Interagency Fire Center in October, 2006, NASA flew four missions in an unmanned aircraft equipped with a thermal infrared imaging system over numerous Southern California wildfires. The system, which tracks and maps hotspots through dense smoke, provided firefighters with near-real-time images and data to help them battle the blazes.

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 throughout 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 showed 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.

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