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Gloabl Hawk to track hurricanes on Atlantic will be launched next month. (NOAA)

NASA Embarks on Tracking Hurricanes with Remote-Controlled ‘Global Hawk’

Remote-controlled aircraft mimicking an unmanned drone will be sent this weekend to space by NASA in a first of its kind to intensely track and provide forecast of the movements and consolidation of hurricanes on the seas, in an ambitious project named Global Hawk.

To be airborne until September, the global Hawk aircraft will fly essentially on the Atlantic Ocean collecting data on temperature, moisture, wind speed and wind direction, helping the US to forecast any hurricane threat and its intensity in advance.

The aircraft will be monitored by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA. “We are flying the Global Hawk above hurricanes and other severe storms to refine it as a new, powerful tool to better forecast where hurricanes go and how intense they are,” said Robbie Hood, director of the program at NOAA.

The aircraft will also work as a replacement to satellites, which are already on the job tracking storms and hurricanes around the globe. Since there is a possibility that these satellites may go down and fail to collect data, Global Hawk will be the main tracker for NOAA, which is keen to improve the US preparedness to hurricanes and other sevvere storms.NOAA also runs National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center.

The ground control will be set up at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia, and NOAA said the Global Hawk is part of the mission called “Sensing Hazards with Operational Unmanned Technology” (SHOUT) being undertaken by it currently.

“The Global Hawk allows us to stay over these weather patterns a greater amount of time than manned aircraft,” said Gary Wick, NOAA’s lead scientist.

Flying at 60,000 feet, which is twice that of manned aircraft, Global Hawk will collect data continuously for 24 hours.”It provides us with an observing tool that has the endurance of a satellite but provides finer resolution data and precision of an aircraft,” said Gary Wick.

For the last five years, NOAA has teamed up with NASA to test fly the Global Hawk unmanned aircraft to see how hurricanes form and intensify over the Atlantic as part of the NASA-led project called the Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel mission.

The initial test-flight was conducted last year on Sept. 11, and the unmanned Global Hawk aircraft was on a 26 hour flight to gather weather data off the coast of West Africa.

In the next three years, NOAA will depend on the Global Hawk to assess the feasibility of regular operations to improve day-to-day forecasts of severe storms forming over the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans.

This new experiment, funded by the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013, is driven by two major needs, in short, to be a Weather Ready Nation.

The second goal is to develop a reliable observations tool to augment crucial weather observations from satellites, and in the event of an unplanned gap in satellite coverage, provide severe weather forecast information.

Global Hawk

NASA’s Global Hawk, an unmanned aircraft, is being used by NASA and NOAA to fly for up to 26 hours above severe storms to gather important weather information. (NASA)

Global Hawk is a step ahead of the satellites since satellites provide crucial information in broad swaths greater than 100 kilometers while the Global Hawk can send more pinpointed information transmitted from its sensors. “Global Hawk can give us a finer resolution picture of weather in narrower swaths than 60 kilometers,” said Robbie Hood, director of NOAA’s Unmanned Aircraft System Program and lead scientist for the new Global Hawk experiment.

“Flying a Global Hawk with weather observing sensors over a storm is like putting the storm under a microscope. The higher resolution aircraft data allow us to see more clearly inside a storm, and capture detailed changes in wind speed and intensity. This can help us better understand a storm’s development and hopefully produce a better forecast of downstream effects. ”

The first flight by the NASA Global Hawk in the experiment will take off Next few months coinciding with the  hurricane season 2015 over the Atlantic Ocean. In October and November 2015, the Global Hawk will fly in severe storms off Alaska. In 2016, the Global Hawk will fly in storms in the Pacific.

In flights of up to 26 hours, the Global Hawk can gather continuous weather data on wind, temperature, and humidity from an altitude of approximately 60,000 feet above the Earth’s surface, almost 15,000 feet higher than any manned airplane can fly.

The Global Hawk team includes scientists from across NOAA, including its Unmanned Aircraft System Program, Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Lab, Earth Systems Research Lab, NOAA Cooperative Institute (CI) for Marine and Atmospheric Studies, CI for Research in the Atmosphere and CI for Research in Environmental Sciences.

NOAA Corps officers with the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations will remotely operate the NASA Global Hawk, while NOAA’s Weather Service and Satellite Service are part of the team evaluating the feasibility and cost of using unmanned systems in NOAA National Weather Service operations.

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