The JPL Earth Science and Technology Directorate seeks to revolutionize the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in science by automating the launch, retrieval, and data download process of UVAs. This will enable them to conduct sorties many times per day for several months without human intervention, and thereby, increase the spatial resolution and temporal frequency of Earth science observations far beyond what can be achieved from traditional airborne and orbital platforms. This will also extend observations into locations that cannot be seen from traditional platforms, such as under tree canopies, and includes continuous sensing throughout the diurnal cycle for months at a time.
Our research will enable a small, autonomous rotorcraft to conduct such missions, initially to study in detail the physiological responses of flora at the scale of individual plants and at the temporal resolution to detect variations in stress and subsequent reduction in productivity, primarily due to heat and water stress. We address key capability gaps preventing such missions by (1) showing feasibility of carrying suitable instruments on appropriate flight paths with such aircraft and (2) developing and demonstrating capabilities for autonomous landing and recharging, position estimation in-flight with poor GPS, and in-flight obstacle avoidance to enable unattended, long-duration, and repetitive observations.
Roland Brockers - Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Research and Technology Development Program