AUVSI: NASA, Northrop tests sensor drop on Global Hawk

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NASA and Northrop Grumman this week successfully released dropsondes from a modified Block 0 Global Hawk, Northrop says. The tests, conducted at Edwards AFB in California, are in preparation for the Global Hawk to go hurricane-hunting in the Caribbean with NASA as part of the Genesis and Rapid Intensification Process (GRIP) mission.

GRIP is a NASA research mission aimed at getting a better understanding of tropical storms and how they intensify - or don't - and develop into hurricanes.

The dropsonde sensors, each about the size of an empty paper towel tube and weighing less than 227 grams (8oz), are loaded into lightweight aluminium rack in the belly of the Global Hawk and are released without actuation, dropping into the storm straight through holes in the bottom of the rack, says Carl Johnson, Northrop's vice president of air and land advanced concepts.

The 120 dropsondes will send data on conditions inside the growing storm back to a completely revamped ground station as they fall to the ocean, Johnson says. The circa 1994 Global Hawk ground station was updated and modified extensively for scientific missions under the five-year deal with NASA, Northrop says.