NASA is using a drone to track Hurricane Matthew.
The space agency said Friday that it is flying a Global Hawk UAS over huge storm swirls near Florida’s northeast coast.
The RQ-4 Global Hawk is built for watching disasters unfold. The high-altitude, long endurance UAS can fly for over 34 hours and reach an altitude of 60,000 feet above ground. Most of these expensive, private-jet-sized drones fly for the Air Force, where they watch battlefields in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, finding targets and coordinating troops below. NASA also flies one, for scientific research, and they used it to drop sensors into Hurricane Matthew.
To capture weather data like temperature, air pressure, and humidity, the drone dropped several devices called dropsondes that collect information as they fall from the sky, NASA said. Small parachutes attached to the dropsondes keep them from breaking apart when they hit the ocean or ground at the end of their descent.
The dropsondes can send weather data in real-time to the National Hurricane Center in Florida, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and other organizations worldwide that forecast weather.
The drone flight is part of the NOAA’s Sensing Hazards with Operational Unmanned Technology research program for testing whether drones can assist satellites in collecting weather data. NASA said this is the second year of the three-year research project.