Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Climate Research Facility US Department of Energy

Recent advances in unmanned aerial systems (UAS) coupled with changes in the regulatory environment for operations of UAS in the National Airspace increase their potential value for atmospheric and climate research. As a result, the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) user facility is expanding its use of UAS, including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and tethered balloon systems (TBS).

Unmanned Aerial Systems

The DataHawk (top) and ArcticShark (bottom) are unmanned aerial systems used to obtain in situ atmospheric measurements.

ARM is expanding its use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to obtain in situ atmospheric measurements.

First to join the fleet, the ARM Aerial Facility now owns four DataHawk UAS built by the University of Colorado, Boulder. The DataHawk is a small (with a wingspan of 1 meter), light (weighing 700 grams), and relatively inexpensive UAS. It has a static 80 gram payload measuring location, altitude, pressure, temperature, humidity, wind speed, turbulence, and surface temperature. The DataHawk can be launched in different ways: by hand, from a portable bungee launcher, or dropped from a balloon. The DataHawk has an endurance of about 40 minutes and in some ways can be viewed as a steerable radiosonde.

New to the ARM Aerial Facility UAS fleet is the ArcticShark, which is expected to begin collecting atmospheric data on Alaska’s North Slope in 2020. The ArcticShark is a fixed-wing vehicle with a 22-foot wingspan, an empty weight of 427 pounds, and a maximum payload of 100 pounds. It can reach elevations of 15,000 to 18,000 feet.

Tethered Balloon Systems

Tethersondes, like this one, are being operated at the Oliktok Point mobile facility deployment.

ARM also has begun routine measurement activities with TBS at the third ARM Mobile Facility in Oliktok Point. The long-term goal is for ARM to perform routine TBS flights at the site to characterize the Arctic boundary layer under a range of conditions, which requires automating and “ruggedizing” the TBS to the maximum extent.

Ultimately, a system will be developed with a payload capacity in excess of 100 pounds that can autonomously collect airborne data at regular occurrences while operating safely in the extreme conditions present in the Arctic. The TBS would then function as a sustainable baseline component of the ARM instrumentation at Oliktok Point and provide routine, repeated measurements that have climatological value.