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Test & evaluation of the Falcon Methane sensor to assess the effectiveness of UAV emissions detection

Integrated Systems
December 11, 2023

Monitoring and managing greenhouse gas emissions is a critical challenge in the fight against climate change. Big Sky Theory (BST) embarked on a comprehensive test and evaluation project to advance the understanding and application of the Falcon Tunable Diode Laser Absorption Spectroscopy (TDLAS) sensor.

The dedicated development program aimed to validate TDLAS airborne emissions detection and characterization through a series of lab-based trials. This case study explores the significant milestone achieved by BST in partnership with the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) through the Measurement 4 Business (M4B) program, using our SPH Engineering Integrated System for methane detection.


The Big Sky Theory offers valuable assistance to organizations of all sizes in optimizing drone operations while crafting comprehensive airspace integration principles. In this case, together with the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), they aimed to push the boundaries of emissions monitoring technology and UAV inspection modeling. Together, they sought to develop a timely, accurate, and safe execution model for detecting and characterizing airborne methane emissions. Through NPL’s M4B program, BST investigated the technical capabilities of the Falcon methane sensor alongside the integration of UgCS mission planning and flight automation software.


BST recognized that accurate airborne emissions detection was crucial for understanding and mitigating the impact of greenhouse gases. Through testing and evaluation, BST has developed a cutting-edge solution to provide highly detailed emissions data that support both real-time and post-collection analysis, exploitation, and dissemination. Achieving optimal results required technological and procedural coherency and the creation of a Concept of Operation and Employment. Completing these elements was only possible through collaborations in science and technology.


The partnership between Big Sky Theory and the National Physical Laboratory via the M4B program created a new chapter in advancing airborne emissions detection. The success of the testing was directly linked to the SPH Engineering methane detection system, which included UgCS software, the Custom Payload Manager (CPM), Terrain following, and obstacle avoidance radars. The SPH Engineering M300 suite of inspection capabilities facilitated safe and effective trials. The System with Methane Detector from SPH Engineering was the best tool in achieving their goal.


Using the SPH Engineering Integrated System was pivotal in the operation's success. The ability to complete sorties profiles through flight simulation enabled BST and NPL to complete extensive ground-based testing.

Enhanced Capabilities: Proving the Falcon threshold capabilities was a precursor to deploying to validate airborne operating models and collection techniques in the field. The combination of SPH Engineering Integrated Systems and BST operating procedures marked a significant leap in safe emissions detection and characterization capabilities.

Real-world Relevance: Completing Falcon sensor testing with the National Physical Laboratory has addressed previously unknown or misunderstood sensor capabilities. The BST & M4B data sets have provided an impartial assessment of the Falcon TDLAS, proving its validity as a methane detection device and placement within a wider methane management strategy.

Scientific Expertise: The partnership with NPL provided access to scientific knowledge and expertise, enhancing BST's research and development efforts.

Environmental Impact: By advancing emissions detection technology, BST hopes to contribute to the global effort to address climate change and reduce methane emissions through effective operational management.


The M4B collaboration between Big Sky Theory and the National Physical Laboratory represents a significant milestone in the journey towards more accurate and effective airborne emissions detection. Their collective efforts contribute to a more sustainable and environmentally conscious future, highlighting the importance of continued collaboration and innovation in addressing pressing global challenges. We are proud that our technology and systems integration played an integral role in developing the TDLAS capability and look forward to continued support in future testing and operations.

The pictures are available courtesy of Big Sky Theory.