NASA infrared technology to power new agtech service

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Georgia-based Cybercorps LLC is to offer real-time crop health data to farmers, after signing a licensing agreement with NASA to use its patented Compact Thermal Imager (CTI) technology, developed at the space agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, USA, CTI provides precise spatial resolution of around 262ft (80m) per pixel, improving on older instruments that provided less detailed resolution at 3,280ft (1 km) per pixel.

The technology, conceived at Goddard by CTI principal investigator Murzy Jhabvala, is small enough to fit on a ‘CubeSat’ – a new type of miniaturized satellite increasingly used for science missions and technology demonstrations. Though tiny in size, CTI can provide high-resolution information about crop health and soil conditions by measuring surface temperature. After collecting more than 15 million images of Earth during a successful demonstration on the International Space Station in 2019, the instrument is now ready for commercial use.

The advanced detector technology deployed on NASA’s robotic servicing demonstration mission. Credits: NASA

Farmers and other interested customers can subscribe to Cybercorps’ service to access the thermal imaging data, which can be used to evaluate the health of agricultural and aquatic ecosystems. In combination with more traditional techniques, a more accurate understanding of surface temperature could help farmers optimize fertiliser treatments and watering schedules. Plants need sufficient water to complete photosynthesis, and surface temperature provides a key data point in determining how much irrigation is needed to prevent crop death.

Technologies like CTI were developed for research purposes, but they often have additional applications outside of pure science,” explained Eric McGill, a senior technology manager with the Strategic Partnerships Office at Goddard. “In this case, infrared imaging can play an important role in monitoring crop health and helping members of the agricultural community yield better harvests.”

This instrument is very versatile,” added Compton Tucker, a senior Earth scientist at Goddard and co-investigator for CTI. “As a new technology, it has tremendous usage potential in biomass burning and crop surface temperature.”

Our company’s core components are research, education, and commercialization, so the space camera subscription project spans all three of our objectives,” concluded Kevin Howard, chairman and founder of Cybercorps. “This is our first license agreement with NASA, and we’re really excited about the opportunity to collaborate with Goddard on this.”

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