A Novel UAS-Borne Miniature Sensor System to Measure the Size and Composition of Volcanic Ash

Award Information
Agency: National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Branch: N/A
Contract: NNX12CE55P
Agency Tracking Number: 114649
Amount: $124,951.00
Phase: Phase I
Program: SBIR
Awards Year: 2012
Solicitation Year: 2011
Solicitation Topic Code: S1.08
Solicitation Number: N/A
Small Business Information
SPEC, Inc.
3022 Sterling Circle, Suite 200, Boulder, CO, 80301-2377
DUNS: 603025024
HUBZone Owned: N
Woman Owned: N
Socially and Economically Disadvantaged: N
Principal Investigator
 Paul Lawson
 Principal Investigator
 (303) 449-1105
Business Contact
 June Turnbull
Title: Business Official
Phone: (303) 449-1105
Email: june@specinc.com
Research Institution
The explosive eruption of a volcano under the Eyjafjallaj¿kull glacier in Iceland on 14 April 2010 brought air travel in Europe and across the Atlantic to a standstill. Millions of passengers were stranded for over a week and the shutdowns cost the airlines $200 million per day. Jet airliner encounters with volcanic ash plumes have resulted in 90 known incidents of damage to engines and airframes over the past 30 years. Research aircraft measurements from the Mt. St. Helens eruption in 1980 showed that particles with diameters<0.1 micron were found in concentrations similar to those measured in ambient air, but concentrations with diameters from 0.1 to 30 microns were up to 100 times greater than in ambient air. A safe and cost-effective alternative to flying conventional research aircraft into volcanic ash plumes is to instrument a small Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) that uses electric motor propulsion. In Phase I we propose to design and laboratory test a novel, standalone sensor system that can measure the particle size distribution from 0.09 micron to hundreds of microns, record high-resolution digital images, and collect samples for post-analysis of the composition of volcanic ash. In Phase II we will install the sensor package on a tethered balloon and a small electric-powered UAS supplied by Vanilla Aircraft LLC. In concert with experts from the University of Alaska and the University of Cost Rica, we will perform a pilot field project measuring ash size distribution, recording high-resolution digital images, and analyzing ash composition in the plume of an active volcano in Costa Rica.

* information listed above is at the time of submission.

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