According to the NASA media release, NASA debuts Global Hawk autonomous aircraft for earth science, “NASA and the Northrop Grumman Corp. of Los Angeles have unveiled the first Global Hawk aircraft system to be used for environmental science research, heralding a new application for the world's first fully autonomous high-altitude, long-endurance aircraft.”
From the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, where the announcement took place, the first two Northrop Grumman-made RQ-4 Global Hawk aircraft (known as the Tier II+ aircraft during its developmental phase as an unmanned aerial vehicle [UAV]) were transferred from the U.S. Air Force as part of the Space Act Agreement of 2008.
According to the Department of Defense designations, the “R” in RQ-4 stands for “reconnaissance,” the “Q” stands for “unmanned aircraft system,” and “4” represents the “fourth” in this series of unmanned aircraft system.
The $35-million Global Hawk aircraft to be used for NASA are two of seven such aircraft built for the Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration program by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
The total developmental cost of each unmanned vehicle is approximately $132.2. The two new NASA aircraft are the first and sixth aircraft to be built in the seven-aircraft group.
NASA, along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Northrup Grumman will both use the two aircraft—NASA for earth science research and Northrup Grumman for marketing and other such aerospace business concerns.
Page two adds a quote from NASA's director of Earth Science Division.
Michael Freilich, who is the director of the NASA Earth Science Division, stated, “The Global Hawks will provide superb new measurement possibilities for our climate science and applications programs."
The first use by NASA for the Global Hawk aircraft will be a program called "Global Hawk Pacific 2009."
For this project, the aircraft will fly missions over the Pacific and Arctic regions during the late spring and early summer months of 2009 in order to collect atmospheric data of the Earth’s atmosphere in the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere.
The Global Hawk aircraft contains Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), which is a high-resolution system that can see through cloud cover, sandstorms, and other such phenomenon.
It also contains Electro-Optical/Infrared (EO/IR) imagery, which provides up to 40,000 square miles (100,000 square kilometers) of surface area per day.
In fact, the NASA article states, “If a Global Hawk were flown out from San Francisco, it would be able to operate in Maine for 24 hours, observe a 230 X 230 mile (370 x 370 kilometer) grid, and then fly back home.”
Page three concludes the story with additional information on the Global Hawk.
Additional information on the Global Hawk aircraft is found on the FAS website “RQ-4A Global Hawk (Tier II+ HAE UAV)” and the International Online Defense Magazine website “Global Hawk RQ-4A-B: High Altitude Long Endurance UAV.”
Another interesting article is found on The Magazine of Net-Centric Warfare's website "Global Hawk eyed for Pacific Rim package deal."
The October 22, 2007 article, in part, states, "U.S. Pacific Command is working with the State Department, U.S. ambassadors to prospective partner nations and the Office of the Secretary of Defense, where opinions on the idea are split."
"[General Jeffery] Remington said the big question is: Will providing certain nations access to the Global Hawk stabilize or destabilize the region?"
Gen. Remington, director of air, space and information operations for Pacific Command, was quoted in the article to have said, "You have to have that debate, and that is a debate that is going to go on inside the Beltway. I don’t have the answers to those questions."
Photographs of the Global Hawk are provided by the U.S. Air Force.