Air New Zealand is the first passenger airline in the world to join a NASA earth science mission, with one of its Q300 aircraft to be fitted with next-generation satellite receivers. Using GPS signals reflected from the earth’s surface, the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) receiver unit will act as a scientific “black box” during flights, gathering data to predict severe storms better and enabling new climate change research in New Zealand.
Air New Zealand Chief View
Air New Zealand Chief Operational Integrity and Standards Officer Captain David Morgan say with flight paths across Aotearoa; the Q300 is the perfect aircraft to pilot the mission.
“Our Q300s cruise around 16,000 feet – much closer to the land and sea than NASA’s satellites. Placing receivers on aircraft will enhance the resolution and quality of information, giving scientists an unprecedented view over our entire network, from Kerikeri to Invercargill.”
“As an airline, we already see the impact of climate change, with flights impacted by volatile weather and storms. Climate change is our biggest sustainability challenge, so it’s incredible we can use our daily operations to enable this world-leading science.”
NASA Point of View
Data collected inflight will feed into NASA’s Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS). Dr. Gail Skofronick-Jackson, NASA’s CYGNSS Program Scientist in the agency’s Earth Science Division, says with Air New Zealand onboard, there’s an opportunity to extend the mission and monitor the environmental signs of climate change.
“CYGNSS uses GPS signals, bounced off the ocean, measures wind speeds, and helps scientists better predict cyclones and hurricanes. Overland, the technology can determine soil moisture levels also monitor climate change indicators such as drought, flooding, and coastline erosion.”
“This is a new approach to climate science and exciting terrain. The next-generation receivers Air New Zealand will fly have advanced features, new to CYGNSS, so we’re excited to test their capabilities and explore their potential for future spaceborne missions.”
How the Collaboration work?
The University of Auckland will establish a Science Payload Operations Centre to receive and process data collected inflight. Project Lead, Professor Delwyn Moller, says the center will manage what could ultimately be New Zealand’s largest environmental data source.
“Local scientists will work with the NASA CYGNSS team to process these unique measurements into environmental data, opening up a range of research opportunities and potential uses, from flood risk-management to agriculture and resource planning. Through this collaboration, Kiwi scientists will be at the forefront of this emerging field.”
The University of Michigan is developing the receivers for NASA’s Earth Science Technology Office.