Three winning student-created designs for tracking data on Hurricanes and associated weather systems were announced July 8 by NASA for the agency’s 2013-2014 University Aeronautics Engineering Design Challenge. The designs address “technological limitations of the uncrewed aerial systems (UAS) currently used to track and collect data on hurricanes.” The storm season runs June 1 to November 30. Systems now in use to gather storm data, similar to the Global Hawk UAS, have a limited flight endurance of 24 hours per takeoff. Through this five-month period, systems must be capable of flying non-stop a minimum of seven days, NASA commented. “The decision process and supporting detail, including cost optimization, were strengths of the top papers,” said aerospace engineer Jason Welstead, a contest reviewer for NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate in Washington.
1st through 3rd place winners were, respectively, engineering teams at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, and the University of Virginia (UVA) in Charlottesville. “The data gathered by UAS’s is crucial to refining computer models so we can better predict not just the path of these storms, but also the process of hurricane formation and growth,” explained Craig Nickol, a NASA aerospace engineer and technical lead for the contest at the agency’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. “This is where current systems fall short.”