Two applications have been identified that build upon the results from prior NASA projects where small UAS were not used as a delivery platform. The use of remote-sensing techniques to measure soil moisture is well established in a number of scientific disciplines such as hydrology and environmental studies among others. The NASA systems typically used in the past for this purpose focus on satellite based systems such as the AMSR-E radiometers mounted on the EOS Aqua satellite, and the C and X band radiometers specified for the HYDROS mission. A sUAS system carrying similar radiometers will be able to improve on both the spatial and temporal resolution achievable through satellite based measurements. Furthermore, sensing at low altitudes enables the use of lower frequency radiometers (e.g. L band) that can penetrate deeper. This has the advantage of providing soil moisture measurements less likely to be confounded by canopy moisture. sUAS based systems can also complement data obtained from manned aircraft missions. Dr. Gasiewksi previously led a NASA funded research effort at the University of Colorado Center for Environmental Technology (CET) to map soil moisture in a region of North Texas and Oklahoma that suffered from severe flooding. A P-3B aircraft operating a Polarimetric Scanning Radiometer (PSR) was used for this purpose. The proposed technology will be able to replicate the capabilities and validate the results of the CET mission at a fraction of the cost.
The sensor-bed on the proposed technology can be used for a host of non-NASA applications such as land cover mapping, soil content characterization, water table analysis, and drought management among others. Given the current FAA regulations restricting commercial UAS usage in the NAS, potential lead users are currently limited to the public sector. As a preliminary application domain the focus will be on by providing comprehensive information for drought management. This will be achieved by collaborating with of the Colorado State University Agricultural Extension Service located in close proximity to our facilities. This public entity has a well-established, reputable research and consulting mandate targeted at providing actionable information to end-users in the agricultural market. The distribution network of its consulting arm is an attractive and convenient mechanism to deploy the technology, once developed. To-date, preliminary interviews have been conducted by Black Swift Technologies with both the Agricultural Extension Service and the Colorado Department of Agriculture to identify the crop varieties and geographic domains where targeted data gathering on water management and application would be most useful.