How Microsatellites Could Change the Way You Farm

by Brynna Sentel
6 minutes read

The world’s first satellite totally focused on agriculture launched in early 2023, number one in what will be a “constellation” of seven satellites surveying production fields and forestry lands from space. A global accomplishment to be sure, but what does it mean for Illinois soybean farms?

David Du Toit, head of the business advisory council for Dragonfly Aerospace, says each satellite should be in space for six years, collecting data according to target missions defined from the ground. Among the possible impacts data extracted from the satellite images could: reduce CO2 emissions, eliminate pesticide and fertilizer overuse, reduce food waste and mitigate the upcoming global food crisis.

“The hope is that the satellite will enable farmers to be more efficient in farming,” he says. “The insight we will gain out of the satellite compared to the small carbon footprint of the satellite is huge.”

Introducing the EOS Sat-1

According to Du Toit, these “micro sats” or “cube sats” have made it possible for commercial companies to launch satellites, where just a decade ago, only governments could afford to go into space. What Dragonfly Aerospace has essentially done is “ride share” with Space X, along with more than 100 other satellites, to get into orbit. Once their satellite, EOS_Sat-1, was launched, Dragonfly Aerospace took over the controls and began commissioning the unit, quickly confirming the satellite was sending signals to the ground.

EOS_Sat-1 will use two high-performance electro-optical cameras with 11 spectral bands, which are different frequency bands. These DragonEye imagers have 1.4m spatial resolution and 22 km swath. In this case, says Du Toit, their client, EOS Data Analytics, who specified the specific 11 bands they were interested in for the mission. In turn, EOS’s end user clients will use the information procured.

Information can be extracted from each of those different spectral bands, Du Toit explains, such as the health of crops or managing inputs like fertilizer, water or insecticides. Critical decisions, because while all of those inputs are undeniably necessary for crops, overusing them can have a critical impact on the bottom line.

Companies like Dragonfly Aerospace, which are part of what Du Toit calls “the new space industry,” have the ability to pivot quickly as to what and where they monitor, due to not only the advanced technology but the manageable costs of the equipment. Once EOS_Sat-1 completes this mission, a new mission can be defined.

The speed with which this technology can deliver information is also a huge factor, Du Toit says. “It is near real-time data.” They are limited only by the satellite’s proximity to a ground station for a link, and Dragonfly has already arranged for several of those, with more to come. Once the data is sent, Dragonfly says they’ll go from data acquisition to insights delivery in three to 16 hours.

The Relationship Between Satellites and Ag Drones

When asked whether satellites could replace drones for ag monitoring, Du Toit reports he views them as complementary. While satellites cover a very large area, drones would need to fly many times to cover the ground EOS_Sat-1 could cover, and they can do it without labor from the farmer. If farms could receive crop health information daily and use it to do more regular crop forecasting, Du Toit believes significant benefits could be realized. He envisions it being available through a subscription service, perhaps with government or other subsidies available to help farmers with adoption.

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