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Airborne Science Instrumentation

Over the past 30+ years, more than a hundred unique instruments have been flown for various NASA science investigations, ranging from remote sensing devices, to in situ atmospheric samplers, to astrophysical experiments.

PI Instruments

Most airborne payloads are designed, built and managed by Principal Investigators (PI) either at various NASA field centers, universities, companies or other government agencies. Because these PI Instruments are owned and maintained by these various institutions, use of these systems must be arranged directly with the instrument PI.

Facility Instruments

When there is widespread need in the science community for airborne measurements of certain kinds, NASA funds the maintenance and operations of Facility Instruments, in coordination with a PI adviser. For example, each aircraft maintains one or more onboard instruments for measuring everything to position, angle of attack, temperature, humidity and other measurements that are often valuable to science payload data processing. Data from these instruments does not need to be requested but rather is included for each flight. Another example of a facility instrument is the MODIS Airborne Simulator (MAS), which supports MODIS data product validation across several science disciplines. Access to non-aircraft specific Facility Instruments can be obtained through the Science Operations Flight Request System. Funding for flight hours must be provided by either the requesting individual, or by prior arrangement with a NASA Program Manager.

Instrument integration and cross-aircraft portability

Traditionally airborne measurement systems have been integrated onto a particular aircraft based upon observing requirements, which then performed all of the required data collection flights. Increasingly however, instruments are being designed to be platform-independent, which increases both mission flexibility and the number of research flight opportunities.

NASA Airborne Science Instrument Database

The links to the left include a partial listing of the science instruments that are currently integrated and operational on the various catalog aircraft, together with information on the NASA Facility Sensors, and the procedures for integrating a new instrument onto a NASA (or NASA-contract) aircraft. We encourage you to contact us if you’d like to add information on new instruments to our database.