Stay Connected

NOAA Research News

Science meets commerce: Aerial data collection helping this small business soar
SuperUser Account
/ Categories: Research Headlines, 2017

Science meets commerce: Aerial data collection helping this small business soar

A small business that teamed up with NOAA to design a new tool to help improve the nation’s elevation measurements is now taking flight in the commercial market.

Aurora Flight Sciences recently flew Centaur, an optionally piloted plane with a specialized gravity sensor, over California to survey a proposed high-speed train route for Northern and Southern California. Centaur gathered specific data to build a comprehensive model of the earth’s structure, including fault lines along the proposed rail route, to help planners and engineers design a safe rail system.

“As a result of test flights with NOAA, we earned a fair amount of visibility within the community,” said Carrie Haas, a program manager at Aurora Flight Sciences. “We were contacted by the organization supporting high-speed rail planning in California because gravity and magnetic surveys were needed for a better geographic model of the area. Our system was brought in to help support that process.”

Unmanned plane is newest mapping tool

Aurora and NOAA began working together through NOAA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. SBIR funds the critical startup and development stages and it encourages the commercialization of technology, products, or services, which, in turn, stimulate the U.S. economy.

Through SBIR, Aurora received research, development and testing support for the new aircraft system and sensor that could be used for NOAA’s GRAV-D, which stands for Gravity for the Redefinition of the American Vertical Datum.

This 15-year project will collect gravity measurements across the United States to support more accurate elevation maps. These measurements will help planners predict how water flows for many applications, including floodplain mapping, infrastructure development and marine transportation. When complete around 2022, it is estimated that GRAV-D will provide $4.8 billion in socio-economic benefits through improved floodplain mapping, coastal resource management, construction, agriculture and emergency evacuation planning.

“This technology would not exist without the SBIR partnership,” said Monica Youngman, NOAA scientist and GRAV-D project manager. “SBIR provided the venue to explore and develop a new system, which turned out to be an extremely good method of gravity survey. We didn’t know until it happened.”

Previous Article Research finds spike in dust storms in American Southwest driven by ocean changes
Next Article NOAA names University of Michigan to host cooperative institute for Great Lakes region



Phone: 301-713-2458
Address: 1315 East-West Highway Silver Spring, MD 20910

Stay Connected


Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) - or "NOAA Research" - provides the research foundation for understanding the complex systems that support our planet. Working in partnership with other organizational units of the NOAA, a bureau of the Department of Commerce, NOAA Research enables better forecasts, earlier warnings for natural disasters, and a greater understanding of the Earth. Our role is to provide unbiased science to better manage the environment, nationally, and globally.


Can't Find What You Need?
Send Feedback
Copyright 2018 by NOAA Terms Of Use Privacy Statement
Back To Top