On Saturday 19th February 2022, German NewSpace company ConstellR successfully launched their first thermal infrared earth observation system into space for global water monitoring. The payload was launched from Wallops Island, Virginia, as part of the Northrop Grumman resupply mission to the International Space Station.
The novel payload, LisR (Longwave Infrared Sensing demonstratoR) thermal camera system, is the first of its kind to be launched by ConstellR and is a precursor to its full constellation of microsatellites, the first generation of which will be launched at the end of 2023.
The main elements of the 40 cm x 10cm x 10cm LiSR system are as follows:
- Freeform Optics Mirror – the mirror is gold to maximize reflectivity in the IR spectrum
- Telescope – the mirrors are attached to the telescope block
- Thermal Infrared Detector – with spectral bands specifically modified for this specific mission
- Electronics System – power supply for data management, commands & steering etc.
- Data Processing Unit – the processing power behind the recording / storing of images
- Aluminum Casing – black coating for high emissivity, allowing radiation of heat away
LisR paves the way for a scalable, commercial water monitoring service for smart agriculture based on the detection of changes in crop health days to weeks before current approaches.
According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the UN and the World Wildlife Fund, agriculture consumes 70 percent of the world’s available freshwater. 60 percent of this water is wasted however, due to ill-maintained irrigation systems, inefficient application methods and crops that require more water than their environment allows. This is where ConstellR’s technology will be so relevant: their coloured land surface temperature heatmaps, depicted across a scale of blue, turquoise, yellow, orange and red represent various scales of plant stress and water availability at sub-field level. This level of insight helps in the optimisation of smart irrigation systems, the detection of potential threats to yield and the early mitigation of crop stress.
“These kinds of maps and measured biophysical indicators have the potential to disrupt global agricultural practices and could in the future improve weather models, optimise urban planning and drive more effective disaster management,”
said Dr. Max Gulde, CEO of ConstellR.
Founded in 2020, ConstellR has grown from three founders to over 25 employees across aerospace engineering and data science, software development and commercial teams. The company draws on a heritage of over 20 space missions and brings critical industry experience from a range of industry heavyweights including OHB, Planet, MunichRe, Honeywell and Ernst & Young.
The team’s patented space-based technology will deliver high-precision, granular crop health data, allowing the derivation of evapotranspiration and other biophysical factors that help determine biosphere health. This information offers the potential to enhance precision agriculture on a global basis and deliver actionable insights faster and more cost-efficiently than existing solutions.
This demonstrator technology provides a first thermal datastream for ConstellR, with the goal that the data will be utilized by their pilot clients as early as April 2022. The technology will allow the team to understand more about how its thermal infrared system performs in space whilst allowing agri-analytics customers to pilot the use of a novel, calibrated thermal EO dataset and guide the design of future monitoring products. It represents the first step in ConstellR’s vision to build a deeper atlas of the planet’s ecosphere, driving a better understanding of global resources, more crop per drop, and a strong contribution to global food security.
ConstellR anticipates large agri-food companies including Bayer Crop Sciences, BayWa and Ferrero, as well as governments and global agricultural research groups to be among their future clients. For such customers, the scalability and high precision of ConstellR’s data in supporting yield monitoring, prediction and management, will be key.
“When plants are in bad shape they wilt and change colour, by which point it is already too late to take mitigative action. Thanks to the infrared technology with which ConstellR’s satellites are equipped, it will be possible to detect early signs of water stress up to two weeks earlier. This can help prevent long-term crop damage, over-watering and water waste.”
said Dr. Max Gulde, CEO of ConstellR.
“Together with a world class team at OHB, ConstellR is taking on the challenge of scaling down the size and cost of a normally very complex payload while maintaining the very high performance required so that we can be complementary with large institutional missions, with the added benefit of a higher revisit time. The LiSR demonstrator is an important first milestone in this technology evolution and we look forward to continuing working together in the future.”
added Egbert Jan van der Veen, Managing Director of OHB Venture Capital & Head of Strategy at OHB Group.
ConstellR is a spin-out from Germany’s Fraunhofer institute. The company’s innovative first payload has been designed and developed in partnership with Fraunhofer EMI, Fraunhofer IOF, SpaceOptix and IR Nova and with the support of Nanoracks, BMWi, EXIST, LZN and the Digital Innovation Hub Photonics.
ConstellR counts Amathaon Capital, OHB Ventures and FTTF among its investors and is working closely with partners OHB, Nanoavionics, Exolaunch and the European Space Agency to de-risk its ongoing technology development. The team and its advisors are based across the globe in Germany, Sweden, Canada, the UK, France, Italy and the US.
For further details on the ConstellR launch, the LisR system, and learn more about potential commercial applications, please view the Launch Media Pack below.
ConstellR is a NewSpace data and services company leading the way in delivering a daily, global water monitoring service. ConstellR provides the fundamental global data for smart crop monitoring, identifying changes in crop health days to weeks before they become visible and enabling farmers to react early to and mitigate for potential crop risks and losses. This allows customers to reduce uncertainty in crop yield forecasting, limiting price volatility, improving logistics planning and increasing transparency across agri-food supply chains.
Courtesy of ConstellR