Sensors Use Airplanes To Gather Weather Data

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It won't be long before aircraft are not only affected by weather forecasts, they'll be helping to gather the information to make them more accurate. SpectraSensors, a high-tech spinoff company of the NASA/Caltech Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has developed a sensor and air sampling system that can be installed on aircraft and monitor the water vapor content of the outside air. Water vapor is a fundamental part of weather prognostication but currently forecasters rely on readings taken every 12 hours by weather balloons. "Thousands of aircraft in the near future will be able to provide comprehensive domestic and international coverage," said SpectraSensors CEO George Balogh. The sensors, which use tunable diode-laser spectroscopy, have been tested on 25 UPS Boeing 757 aircraft for the last six months and the results from the onboard sensors are consistent with those gathered by the weather balloons. Balogh said the potential impact on aviation of all kinds is staggering. "The FAA estimates that bad weather costs the aviation industry more than $1 billion annually," he said. That's not to mention the inconvenience and safety concerns associated with bad weather.