Volume 5, Number 5 September/October 1997
Aerospace Technology Development
SLEEK, SOLAR-POWERED, REMOTELY piloted vehicle named Pathfinder has moved NASA closer to fulfilling growing scientific requirements to use unpiloted aircraft at higher altitudes to obtain various types of scientific data than is possible with NASA's current data-gathering fleet of remotely piloted vehicles. Pathfinder spent this past summer at the U.S. Navy Pacific Missile Range facility in Kauai, Hawaii, where it set a new unofficial world record for high-altitude flight by a solar-powered aircraft. It reached more than 71,500 feet, exceeding its own previous record of 67,350 feet.
"The altitude achievement, a major milestone for the program, demonstrates the aircraft's capability to carry scientific payloads and other experiments into the upper atmosphere," said Jennifer Baer-Riedhart, project manager for NASA's Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology (ERAST) program at the Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, California.
Similar remotely piloted aircraft could spend long periods of time over the ocean monitoring storm developments to provide more accurate predictions of hurricanes. These aircraft also could be used to monitor major croplands, forests and other large, remote expanses to provide early warning of crop damage or fires.
|Solar-powered Pathfinder sets a new unofficial world record for high-altitude flight.|
Pathfinder is one of several remotely piloted aircraft being evaluated under ERAST. The program focuses on developing technologies required to operate slow-flying unpiloted aircraft at high altitudes.
The most extreme mission envisioned for solar-powered aircraft would reach altitudes of 100,000 feet for environmental sampling missions that last a week or longer. Additional technologies to be considered for NASA's high-altitude program include lightweight materials, avionics, sensor technology, aerodynamics and other forms of propulsion suitable for extreme altitudes.
Pathfinder, a flying wing spanning 99 feet, with two small pods that extend below the wing's center section, can carry a variety of scientific sensors. The solar arrays on the wing can provide as much as 7,200 watts of power at high noon on a summer day to power the craft's six electric motors and other electronic systems. A backup battery system can provide power for up to five hours to fly the craft after sundown.
Pathfinder was designed and manufactured and is operated by AeroVironment, Inc., of Simi Valley, California, under a jointly sponsored research agreement with NASA.
For more information, contact Jenny Baer-Riedhart at Dryden Flight Research Center.
Call 805/258-3689 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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