NASA Wallops Service Learning Project

Location: NASA Wallops, Wallops Island, Virginia

Partners: Thomas Nelson Community College, VSGC, NASA Wallops, Sentinel Robotics Solutions (SRS)

Dates: April, 2016

STEM Takes Flight Through Virginia’s Community Colleges (STF) is a project led by VSGC with funding awarded by NASA. The GIS-295 Service Learning GIS course was a pilot course offered by Thomas Nelson Community College (TNCC) as one of several components of the STF project. The 12-week course consisted of eight weeks of online-delivered virtual classroom content, followed by field research and reporting. Thirteen students representing five Virginia community colleges and two faculty members traveled to NASA Wallops Flight Facility (WFF) to collect infrared (NIR) and true color sUAS imagery for the field study component of the course on April 6-9, 2016. WFF is located on a six square mile barrier island off of Virginia’s Eastern Shore. WFF is the premier location for researching and testing of suborbital vehicles, including the supply missions to the International Space Station via the Antares rocket program.


Our objectives were to determine if data collected from low cost, small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) can be used to delineate shoreline for monitoring sea level rise, as well as the identification of non-native invasive plant species Phragmites australis. The ability to use sUAS as a platform for near infra-red (NIR) and other types of imagery data collection will provide NASA with near real-time ability to inexpensively measure sea level change, gauge the health of its ecosystems, and evaluate the impacts of invasive species management strategies.


Two sites were flown in April 2016, one autonomous mission with a true color camera, and a second manually-piloted mission with NIR camera. These represented the first ever unmanned flights to take off and land on WFF.


Overall, this project was successful at indicating that inexpensive small UAS as a platform for NIR and other types of sensors for imagery data collection is a feasible approach for NASA to collect near real-time imagery for measuring sea level change, gauge the health of its ecosystems and evaluate the success of invasive species management strategies.


Flight Plan: Click here.

Raw Images (Sample zip file): Click here to view files.

Maps (Orthomosaic): Click here.

Vegetation Health (NDVI): Click here.