UND space based ag camera captures first successful image

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News Article

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University of North Dakota


The University of North Dakota’s International Space Station Agricultural Camera (ISSAC)has successfully captured its first high-resolution image from space. The photograph--taken June 10 and depicting the western coastal region of Florida--is a milestone for the program and represents a decade-long development by UND students and faculty members.

“This is a fantastic day for ISSAC and the culmination of an enormous effort by a number of students, faculty, and staff at UND,” said ISSAC project manager Doug Olsen.

ISSAC is a one-of-a-kind earth-observing sensor mounted in the International Space Station’s Window Observation Research Facility (WORF) and is capable of re-visiting a particular ground location more frequently than other space-based assets.

"This is the successful outcome of a tremendous educational challenge lived on a daily basis by students and faculty from several UND academic departments (Earth System Science and Policy, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, and Computer Science),” said Dr. Soizik Laguette, associate professor and chair of the UND Department of Earth System Science and Policy. “Students have learned and continue to learn the value and excitement of science, the benefit of a multidisciplinary project, team work and finally the joy and pride of a success story."

Led by the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, the ISSAC payload was built as a collaborative project between the Odegard School and the School of Engineering and Mines, with support from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Since NASA astronaut Ron Garan installed the camera during what is called “setup and activation” in mid-May, the ISSAC team has been planning for its first imaging opportunities.

“We have been eager to take our first successful images and this is a testament to all of the work that we’ve put into this imaging system,” said Jaganathan Ranganathan, ISSAC’s operations lead.

ISSAC will be operated and controlled remotely by students working in the ISSAC Science Operations Center, or SOC, which is located in Clifford Hall on the UND campus.

Currently, there are seven student console operators who have received the extensive high-technology training needed to enable them to send the commands to control the system and take images of the Earth. To do so, the students must also coordinate with other activities and the crew aboard the Space Station, communicating via NASA personnel at the ISS Payload Operations & Integration Facility, which is located at the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, AL.

“This is an unbelievable educational experience. We have a number of very powerful software tools that allow us to accurately determine the trajectory of the Space Station as well as its attitude relative to the Earth,” said UND student and ISSAC Console Operator Scott Arbuckle.

ISSAC relies on a new sensor built to UND specifications by Fluxdata Inc., of Rochester NY, which is capable of taking multispectral images (in Red, Green and Near Infrared wavelength bands), critical to performing scientific analysis of growing vegetation.

Launched to the Space Station in January 2011 as an upgrade to a previous camera dubbed AgCam , the new ISSAC sensor can image the Earth with significantly better resolution over its predecessor; in fact, the system is capable of producing images on par with NASA’s LandSat satellite. In addition to imaging crops and rangeland, for which the camera was originally designed, the same multi-spectral capability enables the camera to be used to study environmental change in a wide range of ecosystems.

“Not only do we have requests from farmers and ag producers across North Dakota and throughout the Upper Midwest region, but we have received considerable interest from researchers studying glaciers, grasslands, forestry and environmental change around the world. With natural disasters such as flooding across our state and the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, we are also looking into applying our rapid-response imaging capabilities to help monitor the outcome of these tragic events,” said Olsen.

For Laguette, chair of ESSP, the department that oversees the ISSAC project, the successful capturing of these initial images is “wonderful.”

“Through this collaborative effort, students under the guidance of dedicated faculty and staff expanded on concrete knowledge and concepts learned in the classroom to develop a working imaging system,” Laguette said. “It will deliver images from Earth useful to scientific research as well as end-user applications.”

ISSAC is currently going through an on-orbit check-out period. However, end-users who are interested in requesting imagery from ISSAC in the future can register via ISSAC’s purpose-built web application, Imagery Request and Information System (IRIS), by visiting www.umac.org/iris.

For more information and to watch a video of ISSAC’s history and current operation, visit the ISSAC website at www.umac.org/issac.


The International Space Station Agricultural Camera (ISSAC) is a multi-spectral imaging system mounted onboard the International Space Station in the US’s Destiny module inside the Window Observation Research Facility. The system is capable of high-temporal imaging (multi-week to multi-day) from the ISS which has the potential to dramatically increase temporal opportunities to obtain cloud-free images at spatial resolutions and wavelengths applicable to end-user analysis of in-field variability and vegetative conditions. ISSAC is expected to image for three growing seasons for farming applications as well as cater to a number of research partners conducting studies of glaciers, grasslands and various other topics. Collected images will be downlinked, processed and delivered to end-users within 24-48 hours of acquisition—far greater than lead times offered by other orbiting sensor applications. The ISSAC project has employed more than 60 domestic and international UND students from disciplines such as engineering, aerospace, computer science, entrepreneurship and space studies in its more than 10-year history. For more information and to watch a video of ISSAC’s history and current operation, visit the ISSAC website at www.umac.org/issac.

About UMAC

The Northern Great Plains Center for People and the Environment was established at the University of North Dakota in April 2001. It is the core component of the Upper Midwest Aerospace Consortium (UMAC), which includes participants from academia, industry, and government in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho. The vision of the Center is to build and nurture learning communities, creating an integrated view of all Earth’s systems, in order to serve humankind’s needs and desires for a sustainable and prosperous future. For more information about UMAC visit http://www.umac.org.