GeoBalloon | Imaging Aerostat
GeoBalon

GeoBalloon

Tethered aerostat as a versatile UAV observation platform. Remote sensing monitoring for agriculture. Thermal imaging, night FLIR monitoring, multi-temporal observations and many other applications

In recent years, we have observed an intensive increase in the use of various types of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as tools for imaging, monitoring and remote sensing measurements from low altitudes. This area is dominated by drones, but there are applications in which a balloon may have an advantage. GeoBalloon.

A tethered aerostat is an example of an alternative platform used to carry observation or imaging devices to a given altitude. The possibility of quick removal and attachment in a preferred location may constitute a new quality in monitoring sensitive areas and border areas, determining the sanitary condition of agricultural crops, measuring daily changes in humidity or temperature of various types of ground objects, or observing natural disasters. Applications can be extended to many other areas, such as monitoring the movement of objects or examining the concentration of dust in the air.

Unlike drones, a tethered aerostat does not require propulsion or power supply, so it can remain in the air for virtually any time (except for extreme weather conditions), which allows for long-term observations.

In cooperation with Institute of Fundamental Problems of Technology PAN and with company ADAPTRONICA Sp. z o.o. we have developed a comprehensive remote sensing imaging system using an ultralight tethered aerostat. This type of aerostat allows you to rise to a height of approximately 300 meters with a maximum load of 8 kg, which allows you to carry a wide range of imaging devices along with all peripherals and power supply.

Kamera wielospektralna MicaSense Altum™ wraz z dedykowanym sensorem DLS

MicaSense Altum multispectral camera

MicaSense Altum is an innovative sensor that is a combination of a multispectral and thermal camera in one small housing. A unique 2-in-1 solution in the form of an ultra-compact camera allows simultaneous image recording in five channels: Blue, Green, Red, Red Edge, Near infrared (NIR) and thermal channel (FLIR). The sensors work in fully synchronous mode. Five high-resolution lenses will allow you to obtain detailed images with a 4 cm terrain pixel (100 m AGL), as well as accurate digital models of the terrain surface. The included panel and calibration sensor allow for precise calibration of the camera, which enables detailed comparison of data from flights made in different lighting conditions.

The Altum camera opens up new opportunities for advanced research in agriculture and forestry. High spatial resolution and thermal imaging allow you to calculate precise indicators, conduct detailed monitoring of plants/crops and perform advanced environmental analyses.

GeoBalon MicaSense Altum Imaging System

GeoBalloon imaging system

The GeoBalon imaging system is not only a multispectral camera. It contains a number of other peripherals that guarantee the best possible imaging, such as:

  • safe battery power supply,
  • gyroscopic arm stabilizing the horizontal position of the camera,
  • calibration sensor,
  • GPS positioning system with an independent antenna,
  • WiFi control and communication system with the camera, also ensuring continuous transmission of acquired data to the operator’s station.
Zakresy spektralne kamery MicaSense Altum™

Applications in agriculture

The device is dedicated to agricultural applications. The NIR near-infrared range allows the development of vegetation indicator maps NDVI. The spectral range from the red/infrared border, the so-called Red Edge channel, allowing the calculation of the vegetation index NDRE. Light in this range penetrates the leaf structure much deeper than in the red range. Although both indicators are calculated in a similar way, NDRE is more useful in terms of the entire crop season, because NDVI calculations tend to be imprecise for the maximum amount of chlorophyll accumulated by plants. Near-infrared imaging also enables species differentiation, weed detection, verification of plant condition and the presence of pests.

With the resulting resolution of approximately 4-5 cm/pixel, the indicator maps are very detailed, which allows for easy identification of even a small single plant, and in the case of larger shrubs and trees, even a detailed analysis within them. This confirms the great potential of this tool in agrarian and environmental research.

The relatively large recording area and high resolution may make GeoBalloon suitable for areas such as fruit growing and forestry, where, in addition to the image of the condition of the entire area, it is possible to inspect a single tree. This is confirmed by detailed maps of vegetation indicators developed on the basis of the acquired data.

Operational tests

In 2022, we conducted a series of operational tests of our imaging system on board the MoniKite aerostat developed by Adaptronica. All of them were successful, confirming its effectiveness and efficiency (more…).

Aerostat MoniKite

Thermal monitoring of large areas

By expanding the scope of imaging to include a section of the thermal spectrum, we obtain a tool that allows us to measure and visualize thermal conditions over a relatively large area. The relatively stable position of the aerostat and the ability to lift it for several hours is a key advantage that enables long-term measurements. There are many examples of applications:

Industrial infrastructure: monitoring of industrial plants and complexes, power plants, refineries and other large facilities. Detecting heat leaks, overheating devices, installation failures, etc., allowing you to quickly respond to potential threats and minimize the risk of fire or equipment damage.

Energy: monitoring of transmission lines, transformers, distribution stations and other devices related to the transmission of electricity. Thanks to this, it is possible to detect overloads, short circuits or network damage.

Photovoltaics: inspections of panels on photovoltaic farms. Thermal cameras can detect areas of lower performance due to damage, contamination, light blocking, or other issues. This allows you to identify damaged panels, minimizing performance losses and increasing the efficiency of your photovoltaic system.

Fire protection: Thermal cameras are an effective tool for detecting and monitoring fires in large areas such as forests, countryside or industrial areas. They can quickly locate fire spots even in the case of hidden hot spots or fires invisible to the human eye. This allows for quick response and coordinated firefighting activities.

Mining and industrial waste landfills: the heat generated by these wastes may indicate dynamic processes taking place in the landfill. Spatial monitoring of heat emissions allows the detection of potential threats, such as spontaneous combustion, as well as the control of revitalization processes and waste degradation.

FLIR night video surveillance

A stable position at a constant height above a given area opens up a wide range of applications for the aerostat in defense monitoring, border protection or particularly sensitive facilities. In addition, it has one more important feature that is difficult for drones to compete with – this type of vessel does not emit any sounds, being practically silent (assuming that the tether rope will not emit sounds as a result of contact with the plant cover).

Based on this fact, we developed the concept of a night operational observation system using imaging devices in the thermal range of electromagnetic radiation installed on the aerostat.

Unlike typical remote sensing cameras recording single images, the basis of this system is a video camera recording images in the thermal infrared range (FLIR) with the functionality of continuous image transmission to the operator’s console. The key feature of the imaging system is its installation on a controlled, gyroscopic rotation and tilt arm (the so-called gimbal) ensuring a full field of observation of the area under the ship.

Since the FLIR observation system is dedicated to night operation, the aerostat design should be optimized for this task. The key requirement is to develop its coating with a black material and a matte surface that minimizes potential light reflections. There are virtually no technological limitations here, as polypropylene foil dyed in any color can be used to make the ship’s coating. The aerostat tether rope should also have similar properties.

After correctly placing the aerostat in the given position, no intervention is required for its further operation, therefore the vision system is operated by one person. The operator has a constant view of the image from the camera. Its task is to observe the operation area along with continuous inspection and verification of objects that may appear in the thermal camera’s field of view (e.g. wild animals). The camera is equipped with a varifocal lens to make this task easier.

Multispectral camera MicaSense Altum™ | R/G/B Channels
Multispectral camera MicaSense Altum™ | NIR/R/G Channels
Multispectral camera MicaSense Altum™ | NIR/Redge/R Channels
Multispectral camera MicaSense Altum™ | LWIR Channel
RGB

Multispectral camera

R/G/B channels

532

Multispectral camera

NIR/R/G channels

543

Multispectral camera

NIR/REDGE/R channels

LWIR

Multispectral camera

LWIR thermal channel

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GEOSYSTEMS Polska Sp. z o. o. is a member of the consortium that implements the project entitled Adaptive aerostats, mounted on an SDT (Self Deployable Tensegrity) support structure, as a platform for multi-topic monitoring of the Earth’s surface (Aero-SDT), as part of the TANGO IV program, managed by NCBiR, TANGO-IV-C/0001/2019- 00.

Partners: Institute of Fundamental Problems of Technology PAN | Adaptronica Sp. z o.o.