LisR delivers first images from orbit

Published on Thu, 07.04.2022 – 14:57 CEST in Downstream, covering constellr

In February 2022, an Antares 230+ from the Wallops Flight Facility (Virginia, USA) brought the space cargo ship Cygnus to the International Space Station ISS. Also on board was LisR - an infrared camera from the Freiburg-based company ConstellR. Now the first images reached Earth.

More about the mission

In March, LisR was installed on the ISS's Japanese Experimental Platform Exposed Facility (JEM-EF). There, it is pointed at the Earth's surface to capture images in the long-wave infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum over land areas. These are sent back to Earth for processing and then streamed to pilot customers in the fields of EO analytics (Earth observation), agribusiness, and research. The aim is to be able to improve their processes with real-time thermal satellite images. As initial evaluations now show, the images are well focused and sharp. This opens up a new kind of view of the Earth that can be used to identify features to support operational land management.

Based on the data obtained, a series of pilot projects are to take place as early as the 2022 growing season. The areas monitored will initially be in North America as well as throughout Europe. For example, the first image published by ConstellR shows the data situation in Sacramento, California, on March 22, 2022. The right part clearly shows a drop in temperature caused by the heavy irrigation of a golf course. In the left part, however, data analysts detect elevated temperatures in plant canopies, which can be interpreted as an early warning sign of crop stress.

Analyse von Wärmedaten des Ortes Sacramento (Kalifornien, USA), aufgenommen am 22.03.2022 von LisR an Bord der ISS, bereitgestellt von ConstellR
© ConstellR

As Dr. Lina Hollender, Chief Commercial Officer at ConstellR, points out, there is an urgent need among customers for such data: "Since the launch of LisR, we have seen a significant market pull, with international prospects approaching us to test our data across a range of commercial agricultural applications." To be sure, ConstellR's LisR mission is primarily a demonstration of the company's patent-pending TIR monitoring technology. But this first payload is already delivering high-resolution image data streams in two thermal infrared bands. Supplemented by other Earth observation data, it can be used to derive land surface temperature (LST) - an important environmental variable of water, carbon and energy cycles. Precise LST, in turn, can be used to derive higher-level parameters more reliably than is possible today.

künstlerische Darstellung des Zusammenhangs zwischen Evaporation, Transpiration und Evapotranspiration
Evapotranspiration = Evaporation + Transpiration

Worldwide, 4.37 quadrillion liters of water are consumed annually

One of them is evapotranspiration, which in meteorology refers to the sum of transpiration (evaporation of water from flora and fauna) and evaporation (evaporation of water on unvegetated or open land and water surfaces). Evapotranspiration plays an important role in hydrology as well as in agriculture and horticulture. However, it is also crucial for calculating global water demand, which has been significantly underestimated. A 2015 study (Local flow regulation and irrigation raise global human water consumption and footprint, Fernando Jaramillo, Georgia Destouni) concludes that 4,370 km3 (4,370,000,000,000,000 liters) are consumed annually, but the limit for sustainable use is only 4,000 km3. And with a share of 20 percent, evapotranspiration is quite relevant.

ConstellR plans own satellite constellation with LisR for even more data

Despite the success of the mission so far, the road to comprehensive data collection is still long. Because LisR is installed on board the ISS, the time windows for observation are limited. Although the space station orbits the Earth once every 90 minutes, the regions overflown are constantly changing due to its orbit. This precludes a regular overflight of areas to be observed, which, however, is particularly relevant. A special satellite constellation is intended to provide a remedy. In a sun-synchronous orbit, satellites always fly over a certain point at the same local time. This makes it possible to obtain comparable data, which is essential for reliable forecasts.

According to ConstellR, the installation of its own constellation is planned for 2023 and should be completed as early as 2024. Unlike the European Union's Sentinel-3 satellite pair already in orbit (Sentinel-3A, launched in 2016 and Sentinel 3B, launched in 2018), LisR provides much more detailed imagery with a resolution of 80 m (cf. Sentinel-3: 1,000 m).

Even NASA operates its own program for Earth observation, "Ecostress", which pursues the same goals. However, this mainly provides data on the USA. For Marius Bierdel, CTO of ConstellR, however, this is no reason to question the company's own system. On the contrary, "We are excited about the performance of LisR's 'First Light' imagery. Our goal is to achieve the same radiometric accuracy as NASA's Ecostress system: We continue to evaluate this and look forward to presenting more detailed features of the data at the 4S Symposium in Portugal and at the Living Planet Symposium in Bonn in May."

Digital platform for more affordable data and less hunger

ConstellR says it will soon launch a new digital platform that will allow customers to access a harmonized stream of thermal data. To this end, a variety of data from different sources will be collected, including that from LisR. As a result, the current supply of thermal infrared data for commercial applications will be significantly expanded. In view of the enormous demand for water, which is expected to double by 2050, especially in sub-Saharan Africa according to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), this is an imperative offer. After all, reliable thermal data can help optimize irrigation practices and ultimately significantly increase crop yields.

Affordable data sets are crucial for this, and ConstellR also wants to help to achieve this. In this way, the Freiburg-based company is making an important contribution to achieving one of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in 2015, SDG 2 "Zero Hunger". According to estimates, two-thirds of the world's population will face water shortages by 2025. And agriculture is responsible for 70% of all freshwater withdrawals.

via ConstellR, FAO

Header Image Credit: constellr
Written by M. Weissflog
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