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Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Tech Transfer

Compact 3D Wind Sensor for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Completed Technology Project

Project Description

Compact 3D Wind Sensor for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, Phase I
Accurate wide-area mapping of three-dimensional (3D) wind vectors plays an important role in our ability to understand climate processes, predict weather patterns and hazards, and unravel planetary atmospheric dynamics, both on Earth and extraterrestrially. To this end, NASA has several airborne Doppler lidar platforms (e.g., DAWN, MACAWS) that are capable of mapping 3D wind vectors. These systems are large, heavy, and costly, requiring full-sized crewed aircraft (e.g., DC-8) to operate them and provide 3D wind measurements only along a single direction, thus limiting their utility. To address this barrier, Boulder Nonlinear Systems (BNS) proposes a 3D wind sensor system with low size, weight, and power (SWaP) requirements that can be deployed on small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for wider coverage and cheaper operation. The proposed system is built around exclusive electro-optic beam scanner technology and many commercial off-the-shelf components from the telecom industry. Current mechanical beam scanning solutions are heavy, power hungry, and slow, and constitute a significant portion of the mass of 3D wind sensors and other optical sensor platforms. In contrast, BNS' non-mechanical beam scanner can reduce scanner mass by an order of magnitude and power consumption by three orders of magnitude, while simultaneously providing new mission capabilities such as fast random-access scanning and hemispherical sensor coverage. Phase I will fully characterize the impact of the beam scanner on Doppler lidar measurements and demonstrate recovery of 3D velocity vectors using an existing low-SWaP short-range Doppler lidar prototype developed for long-range rifle ballistics. In Phase II, BNS will partner with an existing lidar wind sensor contractor for development of the full UAV wind sensor prototype using either BNS' existing lidar prototype or integrating BNS' low-SWaP beam scanner onto the partner's wind sensing platform, as desired by NASA. More »

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