Wednesday, September 20, 2017
 
Science meets commerce: Aerial data collection helping this small business soar
/ Categories: Research Headlines, 2017

Science meets commerce: Aerial data collection helping this small business soar

A small business that teamed up with NOAA to design a new tool to help improve the nation’s elevation measurements is now taking flight in the commercial market.

Aurora Flight Sciences recently flew Centaur, an optionally piloted plane with a specialized gravity sensor, over California to survey a proposed high-speed train route for Northern and Southern California. Centaur gathered specific data to build a comprehensive model of the earth’s structure, including fault lines along the proposed rail route, to help planners and engineers design a safe rail system.

“As a result of test flights with NOAA, we earned a fair amount of visibility within the community,” said Carrie Haas, a program manager at Aurora Flight Sciences. “We were contacted by the organization supporting high-speed rail planning in California because gravity and magnetic surveys were needed for a better geographic model of the area. Our system was brought in to help support that process.”

Unmanned plane is newest mapping tool

Aurora and NOAA began working together through NOAA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. SBIR funds the critical startup and development stages and it encourages the commercialization of technology, products, or services, which, in turn, stimulate the U.S. economy.

Centaur soars

Centaur soars

The nimble Centaur aircraft on a test flight over central New York can fly without a pilot in adverse conditions, over long periods of time and at potentially lower costs. Credit: Aurora Flight Sciences
Through SBIR, Aurora received research, development and testing support for the new aircraft system and sensor that could be used for NOAA’s GRAV-D, which stands for Gravity for the Redefinition of the American Vertical Datum.

This 15-year project will collect gravity measurements across the United States to support more accurate elevation maps. These measurements will help planners predict how water flows for many applications, including floodplain mapping, infrastructure development and marine transportation. When complete around 2022, it is estimated that GRAV-D will provide $4.8 billion in socio-economic benefits through improved floodplain mapping, coastal resource management, construction, agriculture and emergency evacuation planning.

“This technology would not exist without the SBIR partnership,” said Monica Youngman, NOAA scientist and GRAV-D project manager. “SBIR provided the venue to explore and develop a new system, which turned out to be an extremely good method of gravity survey. We didn’t know until it happened.”

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