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 ARM Facility is expanding its use of UAS, including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and tethered balloon systems (TBS).
Unmanned Aerial Systems
The ARM Facility is expanding its use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to obtain in situ atmospheric measurements. The ARM Aerial Facility 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.
Another UAS being pursued by the ARM Aerial Facility is the ArcticShark. A much larger UAS than the DataHawk, the ArcticShark is a fixed-wing vehicle with a wingspan of 21 feet and three inches and an empty weight of 427 pounds, with a maximum payload of 100 pounds. It can fly up to an elevation of 15,000 feet and operate for as long as 12 hours at a time.
Tethered Balloon Systems
ARM also has begun routine measurement activities with TBS at the third ARM Mobile Facility in Oliktok Point. The long-term goal is for the ARM Facility 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.