SMARTSonde: A Small Multi-function Autonomous Research and Teaching Sonde

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Tuesday, 19 January 2010: 5:00 PM
B302 (GWCC)
Phillip B. Chilson, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK; and N. Feng, B. Zielke, A. M. Gleason, P. M. Klein, T. A. Bonin, M. B. Yeary, W. Shalamunenc, A. G. Striz, P. Greenway, M. Jones, and J. Langston

The availability of atmospheric measurements over large spatial domains provides unquestionable value to meteorological studies; however, the acquisition of such data is not always easy to achieve. One typically relies on remote sensing instruments (radars, lidars, sodars, radiometers) or in-situ probes carried by balloons or piloted aircraft. An alternative to these traditional approaches is the use of an unmanned aerial system (UAS). Research groups have recognized the benefits of adopting a UAS-based approach for making atmospheric observations and there are several on-going projects to this effect around the world.

Recently the University of Oklahoma (OU) Atmospheric Radar Research Center (ARRC) began developing a UAS platform in order to support several of its on-going research projects. It was desired to produce a platform that 1) is inexpensive and easy to deploy; 2) able to collect in-situ atmospheric measurements along either controlled or pre-configured flight paths; 3) capable of autonomous flight; and 4) supports real-time full-duplex communication (including data transfer) with a ground station. Furthermore, the design should also be one that facilitates interdisciplinary student involvement. All of these criteria have been successfully realized through a new project called SMARTSonde (Small Multi-function Autonomous Research and Teaching Sonde). As the name suggests, it is intended to incorporate SMARTSonde into a variety of research areas including measurements of the atmospheric boundary layer, the validation of radar-based estimates of atmospheric parameters, radar calibration, and so forth.

For this presentation, we begin by discussing the overall concept, development, and initial implementation of the SMARTSonde platform. The initial airframe consists of a commercial off the shelf (COTS) park glider. It has been modified to include the autopilot system and meteorological sensors. Currently the SMARTSonde platform is only capable of measuring pressure, temperature, and humidity; however, height profiles of these values can already be used, for example, to validate radar retrievals of refractivity. After showing some initial results from the SMARTSonde, we will present the design of the airframe, which is being specifically designed for boundary layer and radar validation studies. It will be capable of accommodating additional meteorological sensors and supporting a wider array of meteorological experiments. On-going and future research directions will be discussed.