July 14, 2008

NASA Technology AIDS Calif. Firefighter

Firefighters battling California's wildfires are getting information from a drone aircraft equipped with a NASA sensor, U.S. space agency officials said.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service partnered to get wildfire imagery, responding to requests from several California agencies, NASA said in a news release Monday.

The remote-controlled flights by NASA's unmanned Ikhana aircraft have a sophisticated autonomous modular scanner developed at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. Ikhana's sensor can detect temperatures from less than one-half degree to about 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, NASA said.

NASA's emergency imaging gives us immediate information that we can use to manage fires, identify threats and deploy firefighting assets, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said.

The Ikhana aircraft is imaging almost 4,000 square miles from Santa Barbara north to the Oregon border, providing information about the location and size of the fires and the terrain around them to field commanders, NASA said.

The NASA-Forest Service team gathered six weeks earlier than planned because of the extreme fires in Northern California, said Vincent Ambrosia, NASA Ames' principal investigator for the fire mission. The team will provide state and federal agencies with critical fire intelligence by using NASA aircraft and technology.