Wireless Recon Airplanes

Posted by Sam Churchill on

Netcom announced today that it has been approved by General Atomics to design and develop a Ku-Band Transceiver for the SAR-GMTI communication system, which is designed for the Lynx Fine Resolution Real-time Synthetic Aperture Radar project.

A Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR)/Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI) sensor can be operated from small Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) platforms to track the movement of troops, day or night. Netcom’s Ku-band Transceiver is a custom assembly used in the Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), designed to meet the size and weight constraints of airborne assemblies.

GPS Guided Weapons, incorporating the SAR/GMTI Radar, are often refered to as “smart”.

General Atomics is a leading manufacturer of unmanned aircraft. The U.S. Army’s IGNAT-Extended Range (ER) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) system has been deployed in Iraq.

The Global Hawk Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) from Northrop Grumman, and the supporting Global Hawk Ground Segment by Raytheon, reviewed by Directions Magazine, has a similar approach.

The Global Hawk is a high altitude surveillance unmanned aircraft with a range of 12,000 miles and a total in-the-air time of 35 hours. It is flown from a console and the take off and landing processes are all automated. The Global Hawk is flown by a real pilot who communicates with Air Traffic Control, through controlled airspace, just like a manned airplane.

The aircraft has several sensor configurations which include Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) with Ground Moving Target Indicator, Electro Optical, infrared, and a traditional camera. The output of these sensors is moved either via wideband line-of-sight digital radio or via satellite data link. It can also be configured to monitor communication or other electronic signals.

All of this data can be moved from the UAV, through the ground support system and to the intended customer in near real time.

One real pilot can control up to three UAVs. The entire ground support can redeployed in 24 hours, and the whole thing can be moved by three C141 transport planes. That includes all the maintenance equipment and supplies for 30 days of autonomous operations.

The control panel for the pilot below shows the map covering flight path operations and control, the basic aircraft situations indicators (heading, altitude, systems status, etc.) and information on sensor status.

After all this data is collected and processed, it has to be stored and ultimately de-classified. If the UAV was being used for homeland security, and can provide very high resolution images in a number of formats depending on the sensors suite.

An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), the Silver Fox from Advanced Ceramics Research has been deployed to monitor seismic activity at Mt. St. Helens. The Marine’s Dragon Eye is indistinguishable from a model airplane. But it’s really a hand-held version of an unmanned aerial vehicle.

The Silver Fox s video and thermal imaging payloads relay “live” images using a 2 watt, 1.7 GHz transmitter. The airplane is controlled remotely using a 1 watt, 900 Mhz transceiver on board. Range is 10-20 miles.

Insitu Group’s tiny autonomous airplanes, based out of Bingen, Washington near Hood River, flew autonomously across the Atlantic. They fly a pre-programmed route with GPS supplying corrections.

NASA scientists used MASTER (Modis/Aster Airborne Simulator digital imaging system) for photographing Mt. St. Helens. The images were taken Oct. 12 from an airplane about 4,000 feet above the 8,363-foot-high volcano. Sky Research in Ashland provided the propeller-driven Cessna Caravan airplane that carried the infrared imager.

Hyper-spectral imagery makes identifying and monitoring the locations of potential slope failure easier.

Because of the real-time landslide monitoring systems developed by Rick Lahusen, geologists can know when a mud slide starts. They can alert people downhill of life-threatening risks, before lives are lost.

Earth Search Sciences, in Idaho, has been a pioneer and leading collector of airborne hyperspectral data, which stacks hundreds of narrow bandwidth images, from the infrared to the ultraviolet, to make a composite image. Their Probe-1 hyperspectral airborne instrument fits in a Turbo Commander aircraft.

If they could fit a hyperspectral scanner into one of Insitu Group’s tiny autonomous airplanes they’d really have something.

Another option might be Rotomotion’s $27,000 WiFi-linked robot helicopter. The aerial platform for small cameras and other sensor payloads has a limited range but it might be cheaper than a flying a real helicopter around for a hours, sampling gases. Rotomotion designs, manufactures and operates helicopter robots and aerial robotic systems. Rotomotion ought to talk to Intel about a MIMO-based WiMax client for 10-20 mile range. They’ll get around to it, I suppose. Meanwhile, here are some great megapixel photos shot from inexpensive R/C planes flown by amateurs.

The USGS and NASA scientists are using LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) to analyze changes in the surface elevation of the crater. In 2003 the USGS contracted a LIDAR survey of Mount St. Helens. In early September 2004, USGS and NASA scientists began detailed planning for a second survey. LIDAR shows the new uplift grew to the height of a 35-story building (110 meters or 360 feet) and the area of 29 football fields (130,000 square meters). They used gear from Sky Research, based in Ashland, Oregon. Along with their partners, Watershed Sciences, Sky Research is the only LiDAR provider in the Pacific Northwest. They use an Optech ALTM 3100, a 100 kHz Airborne Laser Terrain Mapper.

Differential Absorption Lidar works on the principal that a gas will absorb light emitted at a certain laser wavelength while transmitting light at most others. By comparing two wavelengths, the concentration of the gas at that particular region of the atmosphere – differential absorption – can be determined. Gases in the atmosphere can indicate volcanic magma location and other characteristics.

It will be interesting to see how useful WiMax may be in controlling UAVs. Maybe it could be used to save lives. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Blog, Aerovironment, FireScout Helicopter, Micropilot, NASA’s UAV Site, UAV Center and UAV Forum have more.

Posted by Sam Churchill on Thursday, January 6th, 2005 at 6:26 am .

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