NASA’s Langley Research Center has developed a system to detect and locate atmospheric clear air turbulence (CAT) by means of a ground-based infrasonic array to serve as an early warning system for aircraft. This system could augment existing systems such as pilot reports (PIREPs), airborne lidar, and airborne radar. The NASA system offers a benefit since the existing electromagnetic methods lack targets at 30,000-40,000 feet and will not detect CAT. Because CAT and severe storms emit infrasound that propagates over vast distances through the Earth’s atmosphere, the Langley system offers an excellent early warning opportunity. The system has been able to detect known events — such as detection of the launch of the Space Shuttle in Florida all the way from Virginia. It also has correlated data with NOAA’s PIREPs information.

NASA’s system detected the STS107 Columbia launch at Cape Canaveral, Florida on June 16, 2003 from sensors at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

Langley has developed various technologies to enable the portable detection system, including: a 3-inch electret condenser microphone with unprecedented sensitivity of –45 dB/Hz, a compact nonporous windscreen that’s suitable for replacing the spatially demanding soaker hoses in current use, an infrasonic calibrator for field use (piston phone with a test signal of 110 dB at 14Hz), laboratory calibration apparatus to very low frequencies, a vacuum isolation vessel sufficiently anechoic to permit measurement of background noise in microphones at frequencies down to a few Hz, and a mobile source for reference (a Helmholtz resonator that provides pure tone at 19 Hz).

The NASA system uses a three-element array in the field to locate sources of infrasound and their direction. This information has been correlated with PIREPs available in real time via the Internet, with 10 examples of good correlation.

The technology has potential applications such as detection and location of clear air turbulence for aircraft; severe weather monitoring, including tornado chasing via portable infrasound array; remote motion detection; and mine communications (infrasound travels through solid barriers).

NASA is actively seeking licensees to commercialize this technology. Please contact The Technology Gateway at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to initiate licensing discussions. Follow this link for more information: http://technology.nasa.gov/patent/TB2016/LAR-TOPS-13 .


NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the July, 2016 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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