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10/24/2007
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NASA Coordinates With Google For Real-Time Wildfire Imaging

The unmanned plane Ikhana will fly Wednesday through the fires raging through Southern California, helping firefighters trying to contain the flames.

NASA will deploy an unmanned airplane to help in the battle to contain wildfires raging through Southern California.

NASA announced Wednesday that the Ikhana would take off from Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California to provide firefighters with aerial images. The aircraft was scheduled for a 10-hour mission to observe fires near Lake Arrowhead. NASA planned to fly the craft south to San Diego County, near the Mexican border.

The unmanned plane carries instruments that can see through smoke and detect hot spots, flame levels, and temperatures. The images are processed on the aircraft, which is flown remotely by pilots at the flight research center. The FAA coordinates the flights so they don't pose a threat to other aircraft.

"After processing, the images are transmitted through a communications satellite to NASA Ames, where the imagery is placed on an Ames Web site," Jim Brass, an Ikhana mission manager, said in a prepared statement. "Then the imagery is combined with Google Earth maps."

NASA flew Ikhana last month for the Western States Fire Mission to demonstrate improved wildfire imaging and mapping capabilities. NASA Ames has developed infrared imaging sensors and real-time data communications for the Predator B, built by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems.

NASA said the unmanned plane has been adapted for environmental science and technology research missions.

"We anticipated an event like the wildfire siege in Southern California occurring in October," investigator Vince Ambrosia of NASA Ames said in a prepared statement. "When the call came on Monday from the National Interagency Fire Center, the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services, and colleagues within the Incident Command structure on the fires, we were ready to quickly deploy our teams and initiate a mission plan to over fly the fires and provide critical thermal infrared intelligence."

NASA teams also have dispersed to work at the firefighting camps, with Google, and with the National Interagency Fire Center, Ambrosia said.

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