BIOSCOPE investigated the technical and economical viability of a vegetation monitoring system based on the integrated use of satellites and Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS). Satellite images bring the ability to capture a wide area in one go, and to acquire systematic, standardized and up-to-date information. RPAS imagery can complement space-borne imagery in case the latter is not accurate enough, or not timely available. Using RPAS will solve the problem of cloudy conditions. The service targets a growing group of nature park managers, farmers and their service providers, who have a key interest in the ability to receive on-demand imagery .
Objectives of the service
Nature managers need efficient and objective means to monitor biodiversity, to classify vegetation structure and to evaluate the outcome of field operations. To this end they need high resolution images of the natural vegetation at specific times of the vegetative phase. Likewise farmers need sharp images at very specific times during the growing season, to decide how much and where to apply fertilizer and crop protection agents.
Where satellite imagery is not sufficient in terms of resolution (spatial), coverage (clouds) or timing (short term planning), BIOSCOPE will acquire complementary imagery using (RPAS).
The objective of this study is to design and validate a combined on-demand UAS & satellite service that will be reliable, robust, and adaptable to the needs of both types of users. Thereby the service will foster a wider use of satellite imagery.
Users and their needs
The service targeted two market segments: managers of natural areas and farmers (and farm advisory services).
Agricultural users have clear demands that can be translated in clear requirements and service specifications. They will be the targeted user group for BIOSCOPE. This includes farmers, agronomists, extension services and contractors.
The feasibility learned that managers of natural areas do not have harmonised requirements, hence building an operational service is difficult to specify.
Remote sensing based information products can support agricultural users in decision making in many different processes. The most pressing need in this is the guarantee to deliver information products in predefined windows. Furthermore, the data must be directly usable, not more than one week old and costs less than 70 yr-1ha-1.
Space Added Value
BIOSCOPE makes use of two space assets: Earth Observation and Satellite Navigation. Both assets are double used:
- Earth Observation is used for the service itself, in particular the very high resolution sensors in the visible and infrared parts of the spectrum;
- Earth Observation meteorological satellites are used for timely assessment if cloud cover will hamper Earth Observation satellites to monitor the agricultural areas of interest;
- Satellite Navigation is used for auto guidance of the UAS and registration of the position where images are taken;
- Satellite Navigation is also used to deploy the services outputs (e.g. task maps) in the field.
The BIOSCOPE service consists of three segments, the Customer segment, the Processing segment and the Acquisition segment (see underneath Figure). The latter consists of a bi-modal acquisition strategy.
BIOSCOPE chooses an appropriate mix of satellite and UAS image acquisitions, to best meet the customer's requirements (e.g. timing, and resolution) based on satellite availability and weather condition. The UAS image acquisition depends on GNSS and EGNOS augmentation for accurate positioning and navigation of the platform. This information is also of great importance for geo-referencing and further processing of the data. The imagery is processed towards maps and distributed to the customer.
The regulatory aspect of RPAS operations is a key issue of the BIOSCOPE service. European regulations are in place for large RPAS (>150kg MTOW) but for the type of RPAS that BIOSCOPE envisaged regulations are still not settled. Regulations also restrict the area coverage per take-off and hence per day that one operator/RPAS is able to make (operations within line-of-sight). . Currently EU regulation is being drafted. Another issue is the area coverage per day that one operator/UAS is able to make. This impacts the time responsiveness of the service and the costs.
Expected main Benefits:
The consulted farmers in the feasibility study are concerned with optimising their resources and maintain or increase production with reduced inputs. Starting with the needs of farmers and other users, BIOSCOPE identified key requirements to become successful: Measure relevant indicators, guarantee acquisition in predefined windows and deliver direct usable treatment maps with minimum delay. Experiences with existing satellite-services in this field show that cloud cover prevents the acquisition guarantee.
This has led to the definition of the final BIOSCOPE service where satellite imagery is complemented by UAS borne imagery in order to deliver what is needed: relevant information that drives spatially varied treatments.
The feasibility study concludes that farmer needs can be fulfilled by the proposed BIOSCOPE service. The size of the market and the benefits for farmers justify further investigations and demonstration of the service. The feasibility study also showed that satellite-based natural vegetation monitoring service would benefit from the use of UAS as service extender, but no viable service in nature management could be identified.
BIOSCOPE completed its feasibility study. The main conclusion is that the feasibility of a vegetation monitoring service based on satellite remote sensing with UAS as backstopping or service extender has been proven. The proposal for a demonstration project is in preparation.