Airborne Missions

  • SEAC4RS Mission Logo

    Studies of Emissions and Atmospheric Composition, Clouds and Climate Coupling by Regional Surveys (SEAC4RS)

    Studies of Emissions and Atmospheric Composition, Clouds and Climate Coupling by Regional Surveys


    1. To determine how pollutant emissions are redistributed via deep convection throughout

    the troposphere.

    2. To determine the evolution of gases and aerosols in deep convective outflow and the

    implications for UT/LS chemistry.

    3. To identify the influences and feedbacks of aerosol particles from anthropogenic

    pollution and biomass burning on meteorology and climate through changes in the

    atmospheric heat budget (i.e., semi-direct effect) or through microphysical changes in

    clouds (i.e., indirect effects).

    4. To serve as a calibration/validation test bed for future satellite instruments and


    Attention will also be given to the influence of biomass burning and pollution, their temporal evolution, and ultimately impacts on meteorological processes which in turn feed back into regional air quality. With respect to meteorological feedbacks, the opportunity to examine the impact of polluting aerosols on cloud properties and ultimately dynamics will be of particular interest.

     To accomplish the goals of SEAC4RS, two aircraft are required. The NASA DC-8 will provide observations from near the surface to 12 km, and the NASA ER-2 will provide high altitude observations reaching into the lower stratosphere as well as important remote sensing observations connecting satellites with observations from lower flying aircraft and surface sites. 

  • MIZOPEX logo

    Marginal Ice Zone Observations and Processes EXperiment (MIZOPEX)

    Recent years have seen extreme changes in the Arctic. Particularly striking are changes within the Pacific sector of the Arctic Ocean, and especially in the seas north of the Alaskan coast. These areas have experienced record warming, reduced sea ice extent, and loss of ice
    in areas that had been ice‐covered throughout human memory. Even the oldest and thickest ice types have failed to survive through the summer melt period in areas such as the Beaufort Sea and Canada Basin, and fundamental changes in ocean conditions such as earlier phytoplankton blooms may be underway. A basic question that is significant for the entire Earth system is whether these regions have passed a tipping point, such that they are now essentially acting as sub‐Arctic seas where ice disappears in summer, or instead whether the changes are transient, with the potential for the ice pack to recover. The answer may depend largely on conditions in areas known as marginal ice zones (MIZ); areas where the "ice‐albedo feedback" driven by solar warming is highest, ice melt is extensive, and where human and marine mammal activity is greatest.

    Despite the significance of the MIZ, basic parameters such as sea surface temperature (SST), sea surface salinity (SSS), and a range of sea ice characteristics are still insufficiently understood in these areas, and especially so during the summer melt period. The project proposed here, identified collectively as the "Marginal Ice Zone Ocean and Ice Observations and Processes EXperiment" (MIZOPEX), will directly address these information gaps through a targeted, intensive observing campaign that exploits unique capabilities of multiple classes of UAS (NASA SIERRA, Insitu ScanEagles, and a microUAS) combined with in‐situ sensing and satellite observations. Specific research areas to be addressed using MIZOPEX data are: relationships between ocean skin temperatures and subsurface temperatures and how these evolve over time in an Arctic environment during summer; variability in sea ice conditions such as thickness, age, and albedo within the MIZ; interactions of SST, salinity and ice conditions during the melt cycle; and validation of satellite‐derived SST and ice concentration fields provided by AVHRR, MODIS, AMSR‐E and the NPP/JPSS VIIRS.

  • The Sensor Integrated Environmental Remote Research Aircraft (SIERRA)

    Sensor Integrated Environmental Remote Research Aircraft (SIERRA)

    The Sensor Integrated Environmental Remote Research Aircraft (SIERRA) is a medium-class, unmanned aircraft system (UAS) that can perform remote sensing and atmospheric sampling missions in isolated and often inaccessible regions, such as over mountain ranges, the open ocean, or the Arctic/Antarctic. UAS missions are of particular value when long flight durations or range-measurement requirements preclude a human pilot or where remote or harsh conditions place pilots and high-value aircraft at risk. Designed by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory and developed at NASA's Ames Research Center, the SIERRA is well suited for precise and accurate data collection missions because it is large enough to carry up to 100 pounds of scientific instruments for up to 600 miles yet small enough not to require a large runway or hangar.

    The NASA SIERRA project is supporting USGS Principal Investigator Jonathan Glen on a NASA funded experiment to demonstrate the use of Unmanned Aircraft for mapping buried geologic faults and providing information on aquifers. The SIERRA is flying low and slow in order to enable measurements by a flux-gate magnetometer mounted on the left wing tip. Flights are taking place in September in Surprise Valley, California.

  • Artist's view of SMAP satellite

    SMAPVEX12 - 2012 Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) Validation Experiment

    The Soil Moisture Active Passive Validation Experiment 2012, or SMAPVEX12, will use radiometer and radar L-band microwave measurements to study retrieval of land surface soil moisture over vegetation at an agricultural site near Winnipeg, Canada. Knowledge gained from this research will help improve the soil moisture retrieval algorithms to be used for NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive, or SMAP, satellite mission planned for launch in 2014. Two aircraft will fly in the field campaign during June and July. A NASA G-III will carry the Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar, or UAVSAR, mounted in a pod under the aircraft. The second aircraft, a DHC-6 Twin Otter, will carry the PALS, or Passive Active L- and S-band Sensor, a combined polarimetric radiometer and radar sharing an array antenna.


    Follow the progress of the SMAPVEX12 mission here:

  • DC3 Mission Logo

    Deep Convective Clouds and Chemistry (DC3)

    The Deep Convective Clouds and Chemistry (DC3) field campaign is exploring the impact of large thunderstorms on the concentration of ozone and other substances in the upper troposphere. The campaign is being led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, and is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and NASA.

    The NASA DC-8, the NSF/NCAR Gulfstream-V (GV), and the DLR Falcon 20 are based in Salina, Kansas for the mission.


    Watch a time-lapse video of the inside of the NASA DC-8 as over 20 instruments were installed.


  • GCPEx logo

    GPM Cold-season Precipitation Experiment (GCPEx)

    The Global Precipitation Measurement Cold-season Precipitation Experiment (GCPEx) will measure light rain and snow in Ontario, Canada in January and February. NASA will fly an airborne science laboratory above Canadian snowstorms to tackle a difficult challenge facing the upcoming Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) satellite mission -- measuring snowfall from space. GPM is an international satellite mission that will set a new standard for precipitation measurements from space, providing next-generation observations of worldwide rain and snow every three hours.
    Read more:

    Falling snow is critically important for society in terms of freshwater resources, atmospheric water and energy cycles, and ecosystems. The GCPEx mission uses instrumented aircraft (NASA DC-8, NASA-funded University of North Dakota Cessna Citation, and Canadian National Research Council Convair 580) for flights over heavily-instrumented ground sites located in and around the Environment Centre for Atmospheric Research Experiments (CARE) located in Egbert, Ontario.

  • COAST mission logo

    Coastal and Ocean Airborne Science Testbed (COAST)

    The Coastal and Ocean Airborne Science Testbed (COAST) Project is a NASA Earth-science flight project that will advance coastal ecosystems research by providing a unique airborne payload optimized for remote sensing in the optically complex coastal zone

    The COAST instrument suite combines a customized imaging spectrometer, sunphotometer system, and new bio-optical radiometer instruments to obtain ocean/coastal/atmosphere data simultaneously. The imaging spectrometer is optimized in the blue region of the spectrum to emphasize remote sensing of marine and freshwater ecosystems. Simultaneous measurements for empirical characterization of the atmospheric column will be accomplished using the Ames Airborne Tracking Sunphotometer (AATS-14). The radiometer system, designed and built by Biospherical Instruments, Inc., collects high quality radiance data from the ocean surface. Dr. Liane Guild of NASA Ames Biospheric Science Branch is the principal investigator.

    Credit: NASA/Jennifer Dungan

    Mission blog:

  • UC-12 aircraft

    Development and Evaluation of Satellite Validation Tools by Experimenters (DEVOTE)

    NASA Langley's UC-12 rolls toward a stop after a morning of flight research for evaluating the next-generation of satellite instruments that study aerosols – tiny chemicals and particles in the atmosphere.

    The UC-12 flew high with two remote-sensing lidar (laser) instruments aboard, while Langley’s B-200 flew low taking in-situ, or in place, measurements with a suite of about 10 instruments.

    "The remote-sensors on the aircraft are prototypes for future systems," said John Hair, principal investigator for DEVOTE (Development and Evaluation of satellite Validation Tools by Experimenters). "We want to evaluate the measurements with detailed in-situ measurements, ground station measurements, and satellite measurements."

    The DEVOTE project is a training initiative lead by a team of early career scientists and engineers who are gaining mission experience and contributing to the latest Earth science research through a field campaign.

    The project is sponsored by the Hands-On Project Experience, an initiative funded by the Office of Chief Engineer and the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters.

    Credit: NASA/Mike Finneran

  • ECO-3D to provide critical measurements on forest biomass structure and carbon

    Forest ecosystems play an important role in the global carbon cycle by sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere but also releasing carbon to the atmosphere upon decomposition. Currently, land imagers are able to provide important information on forest cover, extent, and condition, but knowing the 3-dimensional structure of vegetation is important for quantifying the amount of carbon stored in biomass. In an effort to develop new instruments for determining biomass structure, and to pave the way for future satellites such as DESDynI, the NASA P-3 is currently flying the ECO-3D mission over Maine, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Florida.

    The primary payload, DBSAR, collects Polarimetric and Interferometric SAR data to validate biomass estimates in order to advance our understanding of the carbon cycle. DBSAR will also help advance the use of SAR for ecosystems while informing scientists about the potential of digital beam forming technology to map tree heights, forest biomass, and land cover type.

    As part of the August campaign, NASA will also fly two other instruments, the Slope Imaging Multi-polarization Photon-counting Lidar (SIMPL), and the Cloud Aerosol Radiometer (CAR). SIMPL is a multi-beam, micropulse, single photon ranging laser altimeter (Fig. 2) that will provide measurements of forest canopy structure with very high spatial resolution (Fig. 2) and two-color polarimetry data that can be used to differentiate stand types. CAR is an airborne multi-wavelength scanning radiometer that can measure spectral directional reflectance over uniform forests, homogenous clouds, and bright targets. During this deployment, CAR will be employed to derive the Bidirectional Reflectance Distribution Function (BRDF) and the vegetation clumping Index.
    Data collected with these instruments will be used to advance the development of algorithms for biomass estimation, and in particular, the lidar-radar fusion techniques to estimate biomass and vegetation structure. Of special interest, DBSAR’s InSAR phase coherence measurement of microwave scattering dispersion in forest canopies will be compared to the SIMPL canopy height and structure results. This assessment will be in preparation for the DESDynI mission, to ascertain if L-band phase coherence can be calibrated by lidar data to yield reliable mapping of vegetation height and thereby estimation of aboveground biomass.

  • Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel (HS3)

    The Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel (HS3) is a five-year mission specifically targeted to investigate the processes that underlie hurricane formation and intensity change in the Atlantic Ocean basin. HS3 is motivated by hypotheses related to the relative roles of the large-scale environment and storm-scale internal processes. HS3 addresses the controversial role of the Saharan Air Layer (SAL) in tropical storm formation and intensification as well as the role of deep convection in the inner-core region of storms. Addressing these science questions requires sustained measurements over several years due to the limited sampling opportunities in any given hurricane season.

  • DISCOVER-AQ In Flight

  • Common Operations and Management Portal for Airborne Science Systems (COMPASS)

    The Common Operations and Management Portal for Airborne Science Systems (COMPASS) will support the Airborne Science Program (ASP) and the NASA Science Mission Directorate (SMD) Earth Science division by providing a suite of web-based enterprise management capabilities and improved situational awareness tools to support Airborne Science Missions. COMPASS will provide a common operating picture for improved situational awareness for all participants in NASA Airborne Science missions from scientists and engineers, to managers, as well as the general public. The intent of the system is to encourage more responsive and collaborative measurements between instruments on multiple aircraft, satellites, and on the surface in order to increase the scientific value of the measurements, and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of flight missions. At its most basic, the system will provide a means for visualizing the position of the aircraft and instruments during the course of the mission. Such information is made more useful when compared with or overlaid upon other datasets and model outputs used for mission planning and science data analysis. In addition to map-based information, COMPASS will enable communication between mission team members to enable analysis and discussion of multiple data sources in order to plan and execute science missions.

  • Mid-latitude Airborne Cirrus Properties Experiment (MACPEX)

    The Mid-latitude Airborne Cirrus Properties Experiment (MACPEX) is an airborne field campaign to investigate cirrus cloud properties and the processes that affect their impact on radiation. Utilizing the NASA WB-57 based at Ellington Field, TX, the campaign will take place in the March / April 2011 timeframe. Science flights will focus on central North America vicinity with an emphasis over the DoE ARM SGP site in Oklahoma.

  • Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes Mission Logo

    Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes (GRIP)

    The Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes (GRIP) experiment was a NASA Earth science field experiment in 2010 that was conducted to better understand how tropical storms form and develop into major hurricanes. NASA used the DC-8 aircraft, the WB-57 aircraft, and the Global Hawk Unmanned Airborne System (UAS) configured with a suite of in situ and remote sensing instruments used to observe and characterize the lifecycle of hurricanes.