Technology demonstrations for new civilian markets is to be a priority for Northrop Grumman in the joint operation of its RQ-4 Global Hawk with NASA Dryden Flight Research Center.
The civilian market technology includes first-responder communications and equipment to study hurricanes, forest fires and crop health.
Under a five-year Space Act agreement with the aeronautics agency, Northrop will jointly operate two Global Hawks, flying various experimental scientific payloads.
NASA received two Global Hawks from the US Air Force, with flights starting in the second quarter of this year under the agency's airborne science programme.
Northrop's corporate vice-president Gary Ervin says the agreement is a "unique relationship" in which a private company would team with NASA to "share resources, expertise and responsibility for the system".
He says the company may also produce additional Global Hawks for NASA and other potential customers including the US Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Forestry.
The US government's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration project scientist David Fahey told Flight International it could be a new customer.