May 14, 2001 A NASA research mission will use an unpiloted aircraft, known as an "Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle" or "UAV," to aid Hawaiian coffee growers by providing the growers with spectral (or color) images of their crops. From this information the growers will know, down to the day, the best time for harvesting the beans, bringing the best flavor to consumers.
Part of NASA's UAV-based science demonstration program, these flights will show the ability of this type of aircraft to carry Earth-viewing scientific payloads in long-duration missions at altitudes exceeding the endurance of a pilot in a traditional aircraft. These capabilities will benefit both U.S. scientific and commercial objectives well into the new millennium. Coffee is the leading agricultural commodity traded on world markets, and Hawaiian coffee is some of the finest in the world. A key to producing excellent coffee is knowing the right time to harvest the beans. The research team will use the Pathfinder-Plus aircraft, a high-flying solar-powered UAV built by AeroVironment, Inc., Monrovia, CA, to loiter for long periods over crop fields during the harvest season. Researchers hope the craft's unique capability will provide data the growers can use to select the best time to harvest the beans.
After flights over the largest coffee plantation in America, the Kauai Coffee Company plantation, the research team led by Clark University, Worcester, MA, will brief coffee industry officials on its findings. The mission will allow NASA to provide sound science to a multi-billion dollar American industry. This demonstration is just one potential agricultural-management application using UAVs.
"This mission is both scientifically exciting and commercially appealing. While validating this new breed of aircraft we're also providing sound science with real-world, practical applications to the American people," said Dr. Ghassem Asrar, Associate Administrator for Earth Sciences, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC.
This mission is one of two projects selected from 45 proposals received in response to a solicitation issued by NASA in 2000. The solicitation requires that the missions be managed in "Principal Investigator" mode: Each mission's lead investigator is responsible for choosing the UAV best suited for the experiment, and then managing all aspects of the mission for NASA. NASA has identified approximately $8 million to fund two UAV missions over a period of four years.
The mission is part of NASA's Earth Science Enterprise, a long-term research effort aimed at understanding how human- induced and natural changes affect our global environment, while providing practical societal benefits to America today. The Earth Science Enterprise provides the sound science needed by policy and economic decision-makers to assure responsible stewardship of the global environment.
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