April 3, 2013 in Nation/World

NASA sends drones to study volcanic plumes

Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES – Getting information on volcanic plumes can be perilous work.

The unbearable heat. The noxious gas. The jagged terrain.

So NASA found a new way to carry out the mission without putting its researchers in danger: drones.

Last month, a team of NASA researchers sent three repurposed military drones with special instruments into a sulfur dioxide plume emitted by Costa Rica’s 10,500-foot Turrialba volcano.

The team, led by principal investigator David Pieri of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada-Flintridge, Calif., launched 10 flights involving the small, unmanned spy planes.

The 6-pound, twin-electric-engine planes, called Dragon Eyes, recorded video outside and inside the plume.

The drones also collected data from several remote-sensing instruments, sulfur dioxide and particle sensors, and automatic atmospheric sampling bottles keyed to measure sulfur dioxide concentration.

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