NASA establishes a 5-year plan to clone drones

Published: 30th April 2020
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Daniel Goldin, a NASA director, is pushing to expand the development of drone aircraft to be used as low-cost carriers of research devices. Unmanned craft, such as the Perseus model, can defy upper atmosphere winds, and remain aloft for extended periods. In these days of the Space Shuttle, an aircraft using an 80-hp engine along with a 60-foot foot wingspan that can not even shout a pilot sounds pitiable. But to many atmospheric researchers, this craft and robot aircraft like it are the easiest approach to get a front-row seat on global change procedures such as ozone depletion and greenhouse warning. For many years, the Perseus application existed on a shoestring, as researchers' supplications for unmanned aircraft, which can linger high in the atmosphere for longer, with less risk, and at lower price than any other craft, made little headway in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as well as other agencies. But, starting next year, atmospheric scientists may get the drones in their dreams. Drones have caught the imagination of NASA administrator Daniel Goldin, since they fit in so well with his slogan for the newest NASA: "Better, quicker, and cheaper." Last December, Goldin was invited to the roll out of the first Perseus at Aurora Flight Sciences Corp. of Manassas, Virginia. As Goldin told Science, he "was overwhelmed by the possibilities, and also overwhelmed by how NASA had gotten so far out of balance" in its emphasis on analyzing global change using satellites. Goldin has learned what the research community has been claiming for years: that drones are well suited for directly measuring dynamics and the chemistry of the upper troposphere and stratosphere. The end result of his consciousness-raising: The Administration's budget request for NASA contains what Goldin calls a "considerable funding wedge" - 90 million over FIVE years, in accordance with NASA sources - for constructing and flying drones. The new program marks a victory for Bob Watson, who has been boosting drones for years and heads NASA's research and evaluation program. For trying the upper atmosphere, he says, unmanned aircraft have specific capacities "that cannot be matched any other way." Balloons are at the mercy of the winds and can fly only in the daytime. The limits of manned aircraft became clear in 1988 and 1987 . But flying it was uncertain and expensive. Moreover, much of the activity in ozone depletion takes place 30 kilometers upward, adds atmospheric chemist Jim Anderson of Harvard University, as well as the er 2 has a ceiling of just 20 kilometers. While that's not low enough for green house studies of how a atmosphere absorbs and reradiates solar energy, the ER2 can't satisfy another requirement of those studies: the ability to stay for an entire day-night cycle.

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