NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center and the Northrop Grumman have extended a no-cost agreement that enables NASA’s Science Mission Directorate to conduct Earth science research with the Northrop Grumman-developed RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft system.
The original five-year Space Act Agreement has been extended for an additional five years through April 30, 2018.
Under the original agreement that was effective May 1, 2008, NASA and Northrop Grumman returned two pre-production Global Hawk aircraft to flight status. Northrop Grumman shares in their use to conduct its own flight demonstrations for expanded markets, missions and airborne capabilities, including integration of unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace.
Under the partnership, a permanent ground control station was built at Dryden. A portable ground control station was then constructed and has been used for deployment of a Global Hawk to NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia in support of a 2012 hurricane study. Pilots controlled the aircraft for the first time from both locations.
The two Global Hawk aircraft, among the first seven built during the original Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration program sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, were transferred to NASA Dryden from the U.S. Air Force in September 2007. NASA acquired the two aircraft for research activities supporting its Airborne Science Program.
The Global Hawk is a fully autonomous, high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft system that can fly up to 65,000 feet for more than 30 hours at a time. The aircraft has a range of 11,000 nautical miles. Its endurance and range allow for a non-stop flight from NASA Dryden in Southern California to the North Pole and allow it to loiter for up to seven hours over the polar region before returning to its home base.
The Earth Science Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate is capitalizing on the range and dwell time of the Global Hawk for atmospheric chemistry and radiation science missions in addition to hurricane research. NASA’s Genesis and Rapid Intensification and Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel missions helped researchers investigate the development and intensification of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean.
Data was also collected over winter storms in the Pacific and Arctic region. Scientists for the multi-year Airborne Tropical Tropopause Experiment study the composition of the tropopause over the Pacific.
In addition to the advancement of science, the Global Hawk also has many other potential applications including disaster support capabilities and development of advanced unmanned aircraft systems technologies.