Volcanoes in Central and South America were the primary focus of a four-week Earth science study in late April and early May 2014 using a NASA-developed airborne synthetic aperture imaging radar.
The Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar, or UAVSAR, developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, was carried in a specialized pod on NASA’s C-20A. The 29-day deployment ended May 6 when the aircraft returned to its base in Palmdale, California after 19 flights totaling 97 hours in the air.
This is the second consecutive year the UAVSAR team has conducted a campaign to study sites in Central and South America. Many of the flights imaged the Andean volcanic belt located in western South America.
“By combining images acquired in 2013 with the 2014 images, researchers will produce detailed surface motion measurements to improve volcanic deformation models,” said Naiara Pinto, the UAVSAR science coordinator from JPL’s Suborbital Radar Science and Engineering group.
In coordination with the volcano studies, the agency’s C-20A gathered data over Amazonian forests in Peru, agricultural sites in Chile and glaciers in the Chilean/Argentinian border region. These data will aid in algorithm development and sensor calibration activities, improving scientists’ ability to monitor and study Earth’s carbon and water cycles. All of these research projects involve Latin American institutions, including universities and hazard monitoring agencies.
NASA’s C-20A, the military designation for the Gulfstream III aircraft, features a high-precision autopilot designed and developed by engineers at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California, allowing the aircraft to fly the same flight lines this spring as those flown in 2013.
The Precision Platform Autopilot guides the aircraft by using a kinematic differential Global Positioning System developed by JPL in concert with the aircraft’s inertial navigation system to enable it to fly repeat paths to an accuracy of 15 feet or less. With the precision autopilot engaged, the synthetic aperture radar is able to acquire repeat-pass data that can measure land-surface changes within centimeters.
This mission was conducted under NASA’s Airborne Science Program.
NASA and its partners monitor Earth’s vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.