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DOE, Kazakstan government launch aerial imaging project

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June 19, 1997 Share This!

WASHINGTON — The Department of Energy and Kazakstan government have launched a breakthrough science and technology mission to use DOE technology that was developed to detect weapons proliferation to search for mineral reserves in Kazakstan. The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory will lead the research effort, which begins this month.

This mission to conduct airborne imaging flights over Kazakstan is the result of a recently signed agreement between Pacific Northwest and Earth Search Sciences Inc., a remote sensing firm based in Idaho, to look for mineral and oil deposits in the Republic of Kazakstan, located in central Asia. It is the first time this technology will be used outside the United States.

"The Kazakstan mission is truly a landmark agreement. For the first time since the Cold War, the United States will fly over what was once considered 'forbidden' territory," says Pacific Northwest Project Manager Bruce Roberts. "The mission was two years in the making, and it will set international precedence."

Pacific Northwest, based in Richland, Wash., and Earth Search Sciences will team with DOE to conduct a series of airborne data collections in Kazakstan. Earth Search Sciences will use this data to locate mineral deposits. Information then will be sold to commercial mining companies. The Republic of Kazakstan reaps benefits as well with new jobs and expanded sources of revenue. Kazakstan formally invited officials from DOE, Pacific Northwest and Earth Search Sciences into their country for this business venture.

"This mission at Kazakstan is unique because of its broad range of objectives. It will further U.S. foreign policy goals of converting defense personnel and facilities into peaceful programs, while helping the struggling economy and people of a former Soviet republic move to a strong, free-market system," explains Jim Fuller, program manager at Pacific Northwest. "An equally important aspect is the united effort between the governments of the United States and Kazakstan to work cooperatively in promoting nonproliferation goals of both countries."

Kazakstan, about four times the size of Texas, is rich with oil and mineral resources. The republic also has the world's third largest known gold reserves.

The data will be collected by Earth Search Science's new hyperspectral imager designed to collect reflected light from the earth's surface.

"Geological features such as metal ore deposits and coal each reflect light in distinct wavelengths. The instrument, called Probe 1, can identify those minerals by measuring their wavelengths," says Larry Vance, chairman of Earth Search Sciences. "Probe 1 is easy to use and is more cost-effective than conventional methods of looking for minerals by combing the earth's surface with heavy equipment."

An Airborne Multisensor Pod System, co-developed by Pacific Northwest researchers and other DOE-sponsored organizations, will play a critical role in the Kazakstan mission. AMPS contains two large pods designed to fly beneath the wings of U.S. Navy P-3 aircraft.

"The pods contain sophisticated imaging instruments that produce impressions of the earth's surface below the aircraft. Equipment in the pods include aerial photography, video, hyperspectral and multispectral images," Fuller says. "Information from the Earth Search Sciences Probe 1 sensor and the AMPS sensors will be combined to produce extremely detailed data that couldn't be obtained from a single instrument."

Technology for peaceful purposes will be transferred to the Kazaks. Pacific Northwest and Earth Search Sciences will train Kazak scientists at the laboratory in the analysis and interpretation of complex data. In return, Kazak scientists will take that vital information back to their own country.

Scientists from Pacific Northwest will coordinate efforts with Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, the Remote Sensing Laboratory in Nevada and the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C.

In addition to searching for mineral deposits, researchers will provide aerials of the topography for developing maps and images of their endangered desert forest.

Work will be carried out through a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement. A CRADA enables private businesses and federal government-sponsored agencies to cost-share research projects. Although Pacific Northwest has signed more than 100 CRADAs with private industry, this one marks the first where work extends beyond the U.S. borders.

The combined technology to be used in the Kazakstan mission applies to other industries as well. Government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture have expressed an interest in using it for environmental assessments, improving farm productivity and mapping and developing new transportation systems.

Tags: Energy, Operations, Facilities

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