A Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to be used for Nasa’s environmental science research successfully took its initial flight.

A Global Hawk can fly at altitudes up to more than 60,000ft for more than 30 hours at a time.

The UAV is one of the two unmanned vehicles Nasa’s Dryden Flight Research Centre and Northrop Grumman have returned to flight under a Space Act Agreement signed in 2008.

The four-hour flight aimed at checkout of aircraft systems including engine, flight controls and communication and demonstrated key features of a new Northrop ground control segment.

The Global Hawk Pacific or GloPac will be used in an earth science mission conducted jointly by Nasa and National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The GloPac will undertake six long-duration missions over the Pacific and Arctic regions to perform calibration of instruments and validation of data from the AURA satellite, a Nasa science satellite observing the Earth.

Eleven Nasa and NOAA scientific instruments will be integrated into the Global Hawk to collect atmospheric data while flying through the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere.

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Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Centre GloPac mission project scientist Paul Newman said that they are taking the first steps into making scientific measurements with an unmanned system – a hybrid of a satellite and an aircraft.

Northrop Grumman will share use of the aircraft to conduct its own flight demonstrations for expanded markets, missions and airborne capabilities, including UAS integration into national airspace.

The Global Hawk will fly on the earth science mission in early 2010.