NASA SBIR 2011 Solicitation


PROPOSAL NUMBER: 11-1 S1.08-9350
SUBTOPIC TITLE: In Situ Airborne, Surface, and Submersible Instruments for Earth Science
PROPOSAL TITLE: A Novel UAS-Borne Miniature Sensor System to Measure the Size and Composition of Volcanic Ash

SMALL BUSINESS CONCERN (Firm Name, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
SPEC, Inc.
3022 Sterling Circle, Suite 200
Boulder, CO 80301 - 2377
(303) 449-1105

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Paul Lawson
3022 Sterling Circle - Suite 200
Boulder, CO 80301 - 2377
(303) 449-1105

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 3
End: 5

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT (Limit 2000 characters, approximately 200 words)
The explosive eruption of a volcano under the Eyjafjallaj?kull glacier in Iceland on 14 April 2010 brought air travel in Europe and across the Atlantic to a standstill. Millions of passengers were stranded for over a week and the shutdowns cost the airlines $200 million per day. Jet airliner encounters with volcanic ash plumes have resulted in 90 known incidents of damage to engines and airframes over the past 30 years. Research aircraft measurements from the Mt. St. Helens eruption in 1980 showed that particles with diameters < 0.1 micron were found in concentrations similar to those measured in ambient air, but concentrations with diameters from 0.1 to 30 microns were up to 100 times greater than in ambient air. A safe and cost-effective alternative to flying conventional research aircraft into volcanic ash plumes is to instrument a small Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) that uses electric motor propulsion. In Phase I we propose to design and laboratory test a novel, standalone sensor system that can measure the particle size distribution from 0.09 micron to hundreds of microns, record high-resolution digital images, and collect samples for post-analysis of the composition of volcanic ash. In Phase II we will install the sensor package on a tethered balloon and a small electric-powered UAS supplied by Vanilla Aircraft LLC. In concert with experts from the University of Alaska and the University of Cost Rica, we will perform a pilot field project measuring ash size distribution, recording high-resolution digital images, and analyzing ash composition in the plume of an active volcano in Costa Rica.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS (Limit 1500 characters, approximately 150 words)
NASA will deploy several small UAS with these novel sensors near and also far downwind of active volcanoes to document the size distributions and content of the ash. This information can be used to improve satellite retrievals and in numerical models to simulate the dispersion of volcanic ash after an eruption, resulting in a better definition of boundary conditions for safe air travel. When installed on a small UAS, the new miniature sensor also has potential for exploring several different types of atmospheric conditions of interest to NASA. Burning biomass creates extensive plumes of ash and aerosols that affect the earth's radiation budget and hydrological cycles; both of these disciplines have been the subject of intense field campaigns conducted by NASA. Small UAS with the new sensor package will also be very valuable for investigating cloud microphysics in inaccessible locations, such as ice fog in Polar Regions in the winter, both in the Arctic and in Antarctica.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS (Limit 1500 characters, approximately 150 words)
Analysis of data collected in volcanic ash plumes with small UAS will be used by airline companies to determine a risk management matrix that will define parameters for safe air travel. After an actual volcanic eruption, UAS with sensors will be deployed to measure size distributions and composition to determine where jet airliners can safely operate. Eventually it is anticipated that these in situ measurements will improve satellite retrievals and numerical models to the extent that routine UAS flights will not be required. Jet engine manufacturers will use data collected with the new sensor in volcanic ash plumes to determine appropriate levels of ash to inject into jet engines in test cells. Analysis of the effects of the volcanic ash on engine performance will be used to improve engine resistance to damage and to guide pilots on how to better manage damaged engines. The new miniature sensor will also find new applications in the measurement of ash plumes from forest fires and biomass burning.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING (NASA's technology taxonomy has been developed by the SBIR-STTR program to disseminate awareness of proposed and awarded R/R&D in the agency. It is a listing of over 100 technologies, sorted into broad categories, of interest to NASA.)
Air Transportation & Safety
Attitude Determination & Control
Autonomous Control (see also Control & Monitoring)
Circuits (including ICs; for specific applications, see e.g., Communications, Networking & Signal Transport; Control & Monitoring, Sensors)
GPS/Radiometric (see also Sensors)
Image Analysis
Image Capture (Stills/Motion)
Image Processing
Inertial (see also Sensors)
Lasers (Measuring/Sensing)
Materials & Structures (including Optoelectronics)
Navigation & Guidance

Form Generated on 11-22-11 13:43