The video of the Orion crew module Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) as it descended through the atmosphere until splashdown into the Pacific Ocean was filmed by Ikhana, NASA’s unmanned aircraft system (UAS).
The Orion descending for landing as planned in the Pacific Ocean was filmed by NASA’s Ikhana UAS (Unmanned Aerial System). The drone, a demilitarized MQ-9 Predator B owned and operated by the agency with technical support from the Air Force’s Medium Altitude UAS Division and the Nevada Air National Guard, was acquired by NASA in 2006 to support science missions and technology developments.
The UAS, remotely piloted from a ground control station at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California, filmed the re-entry phase of the capsule it detected though its IR (Infra Red) camera: once located and acquired, the camera operator switched to the optical camera to follow the descent until splashdown.
In the past, the Ikhana was used to perform wildfire imaging and mapping (Western States Fire Mission 2007-2009); in March 2012, NASA used the drone to test an Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast device. In August 2014, the UAS conducted a series of tests in Arctic Circle.
Some of our readers may have seen it already. For all the others, here is a funny video filmed during the press conference held in Portugal last April to showcase the new coastal surveillance UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) of the Portuguese Navy.
The video speaks for itself: just like a large paper airplane, the hand-launched drone immediately plummets and crashes into the water.
The mishap occurred while Portugal’s Defense Minister José Pedro Aguiar-Branco was visiting a naval base near Lisbon and, according to local reports, was caused by a “launch sequence” affected by some part of the airframe clipping the special operator who was launching it.
Fortunately, a second attempt to launch the drone was successful. Too late to save the reputation of the small UAS…
Whilst some readers suggested the aircraft was a model/mock-up, others were pretty certain the MQ-8C was one of the 28 such drones the Navy plans to operate in support of naval special operations forces.
Interestingly, the same reader who had taken the photograph of the MQ-8C was able to get a shot of an MQ-8B Fire Scout Vertical Takeoff and Landing Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (VTUAV), a smaller “Fire Scout” drone copter capable to autonomously take-off and land from any aviation-capable warship and at unprepared landing zones and to find, identify, track and illuminate targets and to provide targeting data to other strike platform as well as perform BDA (Battle Damage Assessment).
The Israeli source who pointed us to the image said the dorsal antenna is retractable, but we are not sure it can be extended; it could be a fixed satellite antenna used for ISTAR, SIGINT, communications relay.