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NMSU selected for inaugural UAS inspection of Elephant Butte Dam

The Bureau of Reclamation has selected New Mexico State University to be its lead unmanned aircraft system subject matter expert to perform the first Reclamation dam inspection. This proof of concept aeronautical research project will occur at Elephant Butte Dam in New Mexico later this summer.


The research flight will include working with the Reclamation dam site personnel to develop the concept of operations and addressing the safety requirements, selecting the sUAS and the correct sensors, validating the flight procedures and performing the inspection.

The purpose of this inaugural dam inspection flight is to determine the applicability of UAS as a tool for this type of infrastructure inspection. Multiple sensors including light detection and ranging, thermal, video and other cameras will be used to assess various mapping and structural aspects of the dam. The products of these sensors used for the follow-on analysis will include georeferenced 3-D model of the dam and spillway, an ortho-photography and digital surface model for photogrammetry processing. The ultimate goal of the project will be to determine potential issues with the dams? structure including concrete cracks, spalls and other subsurface defects including moisture where it should not be, and any erosion or other topographical changes to the dam and spillway.

This will be the first UAS flight for this type of infrastructure UAS application at a Reclamation facility. Additional refinements will be made following the inspection flight, including safety of flight, National Airspace integration and scientific data collection for better understanding of the changes in infrastructure over time.