Nighttime Fire Observations eXperiment (NightFOX)
Kenneth Vierra
/ Categories: UAS News

Nighttime Fire Observations eXperiment (NightFOX)


Biomass burning produces major impacts on local and regional air quality which potentially plays an interactive role in climate change. A capable small, fixed-wing unmanned aircraft system (sUAS) can serve as an ideal platform for measurements of biomass burning emissions, plume distribution, fire extent and perimeter, and supporting meteorological data, especially at night when manned aircraft typically do not operate. The NOAA UASPO-funded Nighttime Fire Observations eXperiment (NightFOX) project aims to develop and deploy a sUAS observation system utilizing two modular and easily exchangeable payloads. One payload will provide in situ measurements of CO2, CO and fine- and coarse-mode aerosol size distributions in biomass burning plumes for characterization of fire combustion efficiency and emissions. A filter sampler will collect bulk aerosol samples for off-line composition analysis. The second payload will be flown over the fire to make remote sensing measurements of fire perimeter and fire radiative power using visible and short-, mid-, and long-wavelength IR observations. The multi-spectral remote sensing data will be used to provide sub-pixel information for comparison with satellite fire observations, and along with measured meteorological parameters, will be used to inform, test, and improve the WRF-SFIRE fire-atmosphere model.

Prototype in-situ and remote-sensing instrument payloads have been developed and are operational. Initial test flights with the payloads have recently been conducted. The performance of the prototype payloads has proven satisfactory and new versions are currently under development that will be used for the NIghtFOX operational deployment to study western wildfires next summer during the NOAA/NASA FIREX-AQ mission. Preliminary data processing algorithms for the remote sensing observations have been developed based on test flight results. A nighttime high-altitude FAA COA was obtained and a nighttime flight to an altitude of 2000 ft (0.61 km) was conducted on November 08, 2018, as a stepping stone to the 1 km design altitude for remote sensing operations.

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