Generally, we expect NASA to design technology related to space travel. And that is exactly what they do. But occasionally, because of the intense work and testing that goes into designing a NASA piece of technology, it tends to be often implemented in other technological fields. Otherwise, a lot of good, efficient work would go to waste.
So, other important pieces of technology are often developed using the same principles, if not some of the same hardware that NASA themselves use. And the Agency, in desperate need of funding, is often involved in the production of those as well. Developed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, NASA’s methane sensing drone was successfully tested.
Called the sUAS, or the Vertical Take-off and Landing small unmanned aerial system, the drone carrying the methane sensor was especially picked for the increased maneuverability and access offered to the sensor. The best feature of the sUAS is its very high vertical access which allows the sensor to get as close as it needs to pretty much any possible source of gas.
But the sensor is the real impressive part regarding the whole rig. Similar to the one developed by JPL to be used on Mars, the sensor enables the detection of methane gas with a far superior sensitivity than any other previous device designed for this particular purpose. Among its wide range of applications, it’s very useful in detecting small methane leaks on industrial pipelines.
Funded by the Pipeline Research Council International, the device has been tested and underwent various demonstrations since 2014. The most recent series of testing in regards to NASA’s Open Path Laser Spectrometer took place in Central California, at the Merced Vernal Pools and Grassland Reserve.
According to Lance Christensen, JPL principal investigator of NASA’s Open Path Laser Spectrometer,
These tests mark the latest chapter in the development of what we believe will eventually be a universal methane monitoring system for detecting fugitive natural-gas emissions and contributing to studies of climate change.
The test flights for the drone were conducted in February by researchers from the MESA (Mechatronics, Embedded Systems and Automation) Lab in Merced. They mostly consisted of flying the drone at various distances from methane source in order to more accurately determine its accuracy, mobility, and resistance.
Further attempts at perfecting the entire rig will consist of fixing the sensor to a fixed wing unmanned aerial system, which would allow it to fly for longer times and distances, making it ideal for detecting possible leaks in pipelines situates in remote, rural areas.
Image source: Pixabay