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Firemapping system put on back burner

Terror fears blamed

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Terrorism has delayed the launch of a new system for monitoring wild fires in the US, according to NASA engineers.

Tighter rules, prompted by heightened fears over the security of flying from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) were among "several factors" cited by the NASA researcher in charge of the project for the delay, according to CNet.

The system was due to have launched today, but having unmanned aircraft flying around is clearly not on right now and the planes will be grounded until 6 September.

Vincent Ambrosia, principal investigator of the Western States Unmanned Aerial System Fire Mission said the tests will be a stepping stone to further development of the system next year, but added: "We may be slightly held back this year due to the FAA regulations, understandably."

Ambrosia did not elaborate on which regulations were holding back the test phase of the project, nor did he list the other factors behind the delay.

NASA was due to perform several test flights of its unmanned remotely piloted Altair craft, adapted from the Predator UAV. The Predator has seen service in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The tests were designed to demonstrate the craft's mobility, imaging, and real-time communications capabilities, NASA says.

The planes will eventually be used to survey wildfire outbreaks, sending real-time data back to the US Forest Service on the spread and temperature of the blazes. The craft will carry NASA sensors capable of discriminating temperature differences as small as half a degree Fahrenheit. This level of sensitivity will be useful when mapping the fires.

Another new piece of kit on board is NASA's Collaborative Decision Environment, technology originally developed for the Mars Exploration Rover, that makes it easier for a range of people on the ground to access, use, and interact with the data the craft will send back. ®

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