NASA Uses Video Processing to Study Hurricanes & Wildfires

Al Presher

March 27, 2013

2 Min Read
NASA Uses Video Processing to Study Hurricanes & Wildfires

Advanced video processing and networking systems deployed on NASA's Global Hawk as part of its Hurricane Severe Storm Sentinel mission use a full motion video (FMV) compression appliance to provide visual situational awareness for those studying hurricanes and wildfires.

The Global Hawk aircraft can reach altitudes of more than 60,000 feet and cover more than 20,000km in 30-hour missions. The scope of these missions has varied from high-altitude monitoring of ozone-depleting molecules to the study of Arctic cyclones influencing global weather patterns.

In a GE press release, Don Sullivan, biospheric science engineer for NASA, said video compression technology is enabling multiple video capabilities on Global Hawk missions.

It allows us to ingest high bandwidth, high resolution video streams from the onboard sensors and compress the data by factors as large as 100:1. The reduced bandwidth video feed can then be transmitted over the communication link to the ground station for observation and analysis with negligible impact on image quality. We expect to deploy several more units over the next two years.


NASA is using the daq8580 compression platform from GE Intelligent Platforms, which is designed to function as a standalone rugged integrated video processor. Its product architecture uses an OpenVPX-compliant video processing engine (ICS-8580) that integrates support for up to four standard-definition video sources or two high-definition sources at resolutions up to 1,920 x 1,080 pixels and 30 frames per second. It also provides video output support for four standard- or high-definition displays, one of which is dedicated to an SDI format (SD-SDI, HD-SDI, or 3G-SDI).

This FMV compression appliance provided three key capabilities for the NASA missions: very high system performance, very low latency to ensure that captured images are processed and transmitted in the shortest possible time, and minimal bandwidth use.

Rod Rice, general manager of military/aerospace products for GE Intelligent Platforms, said in the release that the daq8580's open architecture allows the platform to be integrated easily and cost effectively within the Global Hawk's other systems. Support for CameraLink, an industry-standard protocol, "allows for the support of a broad range of high resolution cameras, giving NASA substantial flexibility."

The ICS-8580 processing engine can support two video streams and output on 10/100 Ethernet for distribution over a wide area network or archiving to data storage in a mission recorder.

The system can also receive compressed data packets from the Ethernet link, decompress them, and send the restored video data to one or both of the available video output ports. The video display features make it possible to capture video in one format, such as SDI, and display it in a different format, such as composite video or VGA-type formats.

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About the Author(s)

Al Presher

Al Presher is a contributing editor for Design News, specializing in automation and control and writing on automation topics, machine control, robotics, fluid power, and power transmission since 2002. Previously he worked in the electronic motion control field for 18 years, most recently as VP of Marketing for ORMEC Systems Corp (manufacturer of PC-based servo control systems).  Previously, he worked as Editor for Plant Systems and Equipment and Appliance magazines.  He holds an MA in magazine journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.

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