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30 July 2011

NASA Aircraft, Sensor to Image California Wildfires

Images: NASA

A NASA-developed thermal-infrared wildfire scanner is preparing for potential service during California’s fall fire season. Operating like a digital camera with special filters to detect light energy at visible, infrared and thermal wavelengths, the Autonomous Modular Sensor, or AMS, is mounted in a NASA Beechcraft B200 King Air based at the Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards, Calif.

The device imaged active hot spots while the aircraft flew over the Eagle fire in San Diego County, Calif., July 22 during a check flight of the scanner. The fire had broken out the preceding day in rugged terrain on an Indian reservation east of Warner Springs.

From an altitude of 23,000 feet, the AMS imaged the fire in the visible through thermal infrared range. The data were generated autonomously in near-real time on the sensor and downloaded via a satellite communications system to a Web server at NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., where the AMS was developed. The U.S. Forest Service then provided the data to the Eagle fire command team.

During September and October, NASA will conduct wildfire observation missions over California with the AMS sensor aboard the B200 when requested by and in partnership with CAL FIRE and the Forest Service.

The Autonomous Modular Sensor has operated aboard several NASA aircraft, most notably Ikhana, a NASA Predator B unmanned aircraft system. From 2007 through 2009, the aircraft and sensor flew more than 100 hours while imaging wildfires from as far north as the U.S. - Canadian border to San Diego County.

Beth Hagenauer, public affairs
NASA Dryden Flight Research Center