EPA ASPECT attends the Presidential Inauguration

The EPA ASPECT aircraft recently helped ensure the safety of the crowds which gathered for the successful inauguration.


The Washington Times article “Mapping a picture of Earth’s minute particles from the sky” includes this info (click link for the complete article)

For hours each night, a pilot flew a 1968 Aero Commander dual propeller airplane, crisscrossing the skies around the Capital Beltway. But because of what it carried, the plane actually is the only one of its kind in the country.

Inside, there’s a collection, among other technology, of infrared and gamma-ray spectrometers, a neutron detector, scanners, cameras and broadband satellite equipment that remotely transmit chemical and radiological data back to the scientists on the ground.

EPA ASPECT – On the Scene

On the scene, in the air, when needed, where needed.   The EPA ASPECT aircraft continues to provide on-scene commanders with the information they need to make critical decisions.
Algorithms, aircraft, and scientific analysis that allows state of the art detection at a higher sensitivity make the ASPECT program unique.   Wheels up on call make the program available when needed.  A solid, well developed and practiced concept of operations (CONOPS) makes ASPECT repeatable and reliable.

Radiation or Radiological Event Detection

ASPECT GEM — Gamma Emergency Mapping

Purpose: To improve the US EPA airborne gamma-screening and mapping capability of ground-based gamma contamination following a wide-area radiological dispersal device (RDD) or improvised nuclear detonation (IND) attack.

Goal: To develop the most advanced gamma-radiation detection capability mountable within an Aero Command 680 FL airframe.

Radiation Solutions RS-500

8 2”x4”x16” Sodium Iodide
up to 12 crystals
up to 3 3”x3” Lanthanum Bromide
2 RS-500 units on aircraft

Typical Radiation Characterization


Chemical Detection

Line Scanner

Plume Detection


The FTIR utilized by ASPECT consist of a modified MR-254; high temporal resolution (75 Hz) system Dual input design with Signal port and Cold source reference port.
Two detectors are utilized including a 3 –5 and 8 – 12 micron providing coverage in the atmospheric IR window. Unit ready for operation in under 4 minutes after power-up. Chemical detection is automatic using a pattern recognition algorithm

Chemical Plume Cross-cut

Automated compound detection — Ammonia detection

Chemical detection algorithms — 72 automated and 500+ compounds can be manually assessed

Train Derailment example assessment

Aerial and Ground Radiological Surveys Phosphate Mines Conducted in January 2011

Executive Summary

In January 2011, EPA Region 4 initiated a joint ground-based radiological survey effort among the EPA Environmental Response Team (ERT), EPA Region 4, and the Department of Energy (DOE) Remote Sensing Laboratory (RSL) of a portion of the Coronet Superfund Site, near Plant City, Florida. During the ground-based survey effort, an aerial radiological survey was performed over the same area by the EPA Airborne Spectral Photometric Environmental Collection Technology (ASPECT) Program. Funding for the aerial survey was provided through an interagency agreement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Nuclear Incident Response Team (NIRT) Program.

Click here for the complete EPA Mission Report

The ASPECT aircraft used the following flight procedures for data collection on January 19, 2011:

  • Altitude above the ground level (AGL): 300 feet 500 feet
  • Target Speed: 100 knots (115 mph)
  • Line Spacing: 300 feet
  • One second data collection frequency

A unique feature of the ASPECT remote sensing technologies  includes the ability to process spectral data automatically in the aircraft with a full reach back link to the program QA/QC program. As data is generated in the aircraft using the pattern recognition software, a support data package is extracted by the reach back team and independently reviewed as a confirmation to data generated on the aircraft.

Advanced aircraft to patrol crowds at Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, NM

Starting Balloon Fiesta weekend, there is going to be an aircraft in the sky over Albuquerque with equipment so advanced the government uses it for both disasters and inaugurations.

It has been developed by the top minds at the Environmental Protection Agency and FEMA: the Airborne Spectral Photographic Environmental Collection Technology or the ASPECT plane.

Real-time situational awareness information for first responders

Paul Lewis discusses ASPECT, an airborne suite of sensors that provides critical data in emergencies, including the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

In 2001 the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Airborne Spectral Photometric Environmental Collection Technology (ASPECT) Program became the United States only civil 24/7 operational airborne chemical, radiological, and situational awareness reporting capability. The ASPECT model of operation combines an airborne operational remote sensing suite with a research and development support team to provide essential situational awareness information to first responders and their local, state and federal lead agencies in accordance with the National Contingency Plan and EPA’s responsibility under Emergency Support Function 10 of the National Response Plan.

The ASPECT aircraft was deployed to Gulfport, Mississippi to provide airborne remotely sensed air monitoring and situational awareness data and products in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster. Flying over 75 missions that included more than 250 hours of flight operation, ASPECT’s initial mission responsibility was to provide air-quality monitoring (i.e., identification of vapor species) during various oil burning operations. The ASPECT airborne wide-area infrared remote sensing spectral data was used to evaluate the hazard potential of vapors being produced from open-water oil burns near the Deepwater Horizon rig site. Later, it was used to aid in the identification of surface oil that could reach beaches and wetland areas.

In this video, Paul Lewis describes the instrumentation on ASPECT and how the various imagers and sensors are used to respond to disasters in near real time.

Lewis is program manager and scientist for the ASPECT Research and Development Program at the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. He was interviewed at SPIE Defense, Security and Sensing 2011.

CNN interviews Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) on the EPA ASPECT Aircraft

Wednesday, July 13, 2010, CNN’s Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer. Correspondent Ines Ferre interviewed Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) who fought to keep the EPA’s ASPECT Aircraft flying. ASPECT (Airborne Spectral Photometric Environmental Collection Technology) is the Nation’s only 24/7 airborne emergency response chemical and radiological mapping program. Dr. Robert Kroutil, the team’s lead scientist, figured out how to reprogram ASPECT’s software to ensure that it detect the difference between oil, oil sheen, algae blooms, and turbulent water. From the air, algae and oil look similar. ASPECT’s new capability to detect oil makes the aircraft invaluable to the efforts surrounding the environmental disaster that BP created on April 20, 2010.

Prior to Rep. Taylor’s leadership in organizing the response efforts for Mississippi, the response was characterized as playing Marco Polo in the Gulf like a bunch of headless chickens.

Leveraging his 13 years in the U.S. Coast Guard where he lead search and rescue efforts and his leadership in the Katrina aftermath, Rep. Taylor’s expertise has ensured that the ASPECT team remain in the Gulf and be tasked with flying the Mississippi Gulf. Equally as important, Rep. Taylor is the reason that the coordination between what was in the air, the ground, and the water has turned into a smoother, cooperative, and effective effort to prevent oil from entering the Mississippi Sound.