Saturday, February 07, 2009

Agricultural Camera or AgCam: Satellite for crop images

Agricultural Camera or AgCam, a specialty camera designed and built by University of North Dakota students and faculty from a number of university departments, was launched into space in November aboard Space Shuttle Endeavor. This spring AgCam is expected to begin taking frequent satellite images of crops and rangeland in the upper Midwest, offering producers a more timely tool to keep an eye on changes taking place on their land.

AgCam consists of two digital cameras with a telephoto lens that will take high-resolution satellite images from space in both visible and infrared light, allowing landowners and others to analyze the health of crops, trees and other vegetation. Those who register for the free service and share information about what area they want photographed, what they plan to use it for and their impressions of the service, are expected to be able to view images within two days of when they are taken through the Upper Midwest Aerospace Consortium’s website. The images will be archived on the website where anyone can view them, but only registered users will be able to request images be taken of specific locations.

The government-run land satellite program or Landsat provides similar satellite images, but satellite images are only taken every 16 days and if it is cloudy the day the images are taken in a specific location, a farmer might wait a month or more to get updated images of their land.

Agricultural Camera or AgCam Applications

Space Applications

AgCam is a space-related research project that will result in the delivery of direct benefits from space to the general public. Increasing the relevance of any space-related research activities with respect to the daily lives of the general public will benefit all ISS applications, whether for space or earth applications. By using AgCam data in support of precision agriculture activities, the public will receive benefits synergistically from three different space systems: (1) Earth-observing from the ISS; (2) in-field navigation from the Global Positioning System; and (3) data delivery via satellite communications. With respect to the educational aspect of the AgCam project, using students to develop and operate AgCam helps train the next generation of scientists and engineers that will work on future space-based applications.

Earth Applications

For broad-band multi-spectral systems, the two most useful frequency bands for studying vegetation are the same red and the near-infrared bands that AgCam will collect. Agricultural efficiency and competitiveness can be enhanced through the practical application of data products that are derived from reflectance measurements taken in these spectral regions. The combination of characteristics that AgCam can provide, high-temporal data acquisition in these two bands at medium-high resolution, and delivered with minimal latency, will offer a unique data source that will allow aspects of agricultural efficiency that are of particular importance to the northern Great Plains to be investigated and improved. Specific AgCam data and information products that we anticipate developing from AgCam imagery include nitrogen application maps to improve fertilizer use, agriculture management zone decision support systems to improve nutrient and invasive species management, and rangeland management tools to improve livestock allocation and evaluation. The rapid responsiveness of AgCam imagery may also aid in disaster management application such as flood monitoring and wildland fire mapping. Educational benefits from AgCam include experiential learning opportunities for engineering, computer science, space studies, and other students at the University of North Dakota during the design, test, and operation of AgCam. Other educational benefits will arise during operations; end users making requests for AgCam images will include K-12 teachers as well as educators at the university level.


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