Next-gen satellites to boost ag imaging

St. Louis, Mo. — Airbus is no newcomer to agricultural imagery, but with the upcoming launch of its next generation of satellites the company is set to become an even bigger player.

“We are one year away from launching our next system, which will be Pleiades Neo,” said Sky Rubin of Airbus Defense and Space during the InfoAg event in St. Louis.

“Pléiades Neo will be the highest resolution commercial satellite constellation that will also include red edge that will have the ability to basically come up with analytics to determine the level of chlorophyll, or the health of a plant.”

The Pléiades Neo constellation will have four identical satellites that orbit 620 kilometres high, have a spatial resolution of 0.3 metres, and have multiple spectral bands, including deep blue, blue, green, red, red edge, near-infrared and panchromatic.

The satellite images will be available through the company’s Verde product, which is an application programming interface plug-in that is already tied into multiple satellite constellations and is plug and play to any precision agricultural portal.

“We take all of the satellite imagery from Sentinel satellites that we built for the European Space Agency, and then also the Landsat information from the U.S. government, plus our premium data and plug it into Verde and then it can basically create consistent analytics throughout the growing season,” Rubin said.

Images and data from Sentinel satellites that Airbus built for the European Space Agency will be added to Landsat resources to help create the Pleiades Neo package. | Airbus photo

Verde can calculate things like leaf area index and nitrogen uptake and detect anomalies.

“That can really help a farmer or service provider identify problems in a field and go out and maybe scout more effectively, and then tie what they are seeing in an image to what’s actually happening on the ground,” Rubin said.

He said Airbus is also developing drone programs that will be launched within two years and will then enable the company to offer an even wider variety of images to its customers.

“We have started to invest in some very cool technology around terrestrial UAVs (aerial drones), high altitude UAVs,” Rubin said.

“We will be in a position to really provide anything from a millimetre-scale measurement all the way to very large scale, continent-wide imaging.”

He said Airbus works with service providers and agribusinesses, but it also works with farmers.

For instance, farmers can buy images from its existing Pléiades constellation with 50-centimetres resolution and four multispectral bands of red, green, blue and near-infrared.

“If you just wanted to buy a Pléiades image out of the archive, you could do that for an area of 100 sq. kilometres for right around US$325. If you wanted to buy a new collection, a new collection is right around US$2,000. There are different options depending on the resolution of the satellites, but that’s kind of a benchmark,” Rubin said.

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