NASA lands in Hobart for Aussie first mission
NASA has chosen Hobart as its base for an Australian-first mission to map Antarctica's eastern coastline from the air.
Research flights will begin as early as Thursday from Hobart Airport as part of the month-long Operation IceBridge, the project's manager confirmed.
The international operation is part of the largest survey ever undertaken of the Earth's changing ice, combining data collected by satellites, aircraft and ground teams.
The US Consul General Michael Kleine, who is in Hobart for the official launch Wednesday, said the Tasmania-Antarctic partnership was very "unique and special".
"For years and years they've [NASA] been flying over Antarctica and the Arctic to track and monitor the ice and the formations, and for Antarctica they've always flown out of Christchurch," he said.
"This will be the first year flying out of Hobart, so we're really excited about that."
Operation IceBridge project manager and engineer Eugenia De Marco told the Mercury 34 NASA representatives would work from Hobart over the duration of the mission.
She said the city's geographical location was key to the operation's success, with each Gulfstream V flight expected to last about 10 hours.
"The first flight will happen this Thursday as long as the weather permits … and we will be going all the way through until November 24," she said.
"Based on some of the targets we want to hit, Hobart is the closest city that can support our mission to hit east Antarctica, as historically we've gone over the west."
Miss De Marco said the data collected during the operation would help scientists bridge the gap in polar observations by NASA's Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellites (ICESat).
ICESat-1 launched in 2003 and de-orbited in 2010 while ICESat-2 remains in orbit after launching late last year.
"Now that ICESat-2 is in the air, Hobart could be our final deployment because we would have met that goal of bridging that data gap," she said.
"That being said, I would not be surprised in the future if you see other polar airborne science projects."
Mr Kleine, on his fourth visit to Tasmania, is also in Hobart for the two-week Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources conference.
He said the conference built on decades of work between the US, Australia and Antarctica.
"The US and Australia stand eye-to-eye, really see Antarctica through the same lens as a place for peaceful purposes and for scientific research," he said.
Mr Kleine said he hoped to see progress in establishing a marine protected area off east Antarctica.
He will also meet with the Premier Will Hodgman during his trip to discuss details for a trade mission with the state, which would involve creating partnerships between large defence contracting companies and Tasmanian maritime companies and resources.