|UND student-built camera to be activated aboard International Space Station|
The University of North Dakota’s Agricultural Camera (AgCam), designed and built by UND students and faculty from several departments and delivered to the International Space Station last November, is set to become operational next week.
ISS astronaut Michael Barratt is scheduled to assemble and activate AgCam Tuesday, April 14, in a process that will take several hours and should be completed by about 3 p.m. Central time (see this National Astronautics and Space Administration [NASA] site about AgCam: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/science/experiments/AgCam.html).
“Tuesday will be a big day for UND and the Red River Valley Research Corridor,” said Senator Byron Dorgan. “AgCam has been a partnership between UND and NASA that will give a boost to the reputation of our region and help farmers and ranchers across the Upper Great Plains. That should be a source of pride for our entire state.”
Through his position on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Dorgan secured $16.1 million for UND’s Upper Midwest Aerospace Consortium (UMAC), which created the AgCam. Dorgan last year included additional funding in an appropriations bill for UMAC to develop the AgCam mission control center at UND and make the images captured by AgCam available to the public through UMAC’s Web page (see http://www.umac.org/).
“The UND interdisciplinary effort that has produced the AgCam is a remarkable story,” said UND President Robert O. Kelley. “Faculty and students from several colleges and centers on campus have produced an instrument that will analyze the composition of agricultural and other materials on the surface of the earth from the International Space Station.”
“The consolidation of multiple technologies into a single instrument will add tremendous economic value to the agricultural industry in North Dakota and around the world,” Kelley said. “UND and NASA have forged a very productive partnership in this initiative.”
AgCam will take visible light and infrared images of crops, rangeland, grasslands, forests, and wetlands in the northern Great Plains and Rocky Mountain regions of the United States, said Doug Olsen, an electrical engineer who is program director at UMAC’s Center for People and the Environment and AgCam project manager.
AgCam will be operated from the student-run Science Operations Center (SOC) on the UND campus. From SOC, students will send commands to AgCam to take images and transmit them to SOC, where they’ll be processed and delivered to end users. AgCam system operators are working with NASA on the integration of SOC with NASA command centers, Olsen said.
“AgCam was an ambitious project that was more than a classroom exercise. It was intended to deliver a practical benefit,” said George Seielstad, an astrophysicist and director of the UND Center for People and the Environment. “About 50 students from eight UND departments worked to make it a reality.”
“By working within tight deadlines, with a limited budget, and within NASA’s complicated procedures, students were excellently prepared to enter the workforce immediately upon graduation,” Seielstad said.
AgCam is a multi-spectral camera loaded aboard the ISS as a payload of the Window Observational Research Facility (WORF). Primary AgCam system components include imaging and pointing assemblies, a power/data controller, cabling and support items, and a NASA-supplied A31p laptop computer and power supply.
AgCam allows operators on the ground to choose specific geographical areas of interest. It can be pointed sideways not just straight down; this enables frequent imaging of a requested area, dramatically improving the chances of obtaining cloud-free images. These images will be downlinked to, and processed at, UND and delivered to the requesting end users within two days.
Farmers using variable-rate application and other precision agriculture techniques will be able to dynamically delineate management zones as the crop conditions change during the growing season; this can result in more effective use of fertilizer and other chemical inputs and reduce negative environmental effects and operational costs.
Most of AgCam’s design, engineering, and construction-which required working to exacting NASA standards and tight ISS tolerances-was carried out by a team of students led by Richard Schultz, professor and chair of electrical engineering in the UND School of Engineering and Mines (SEM) and William“Will” Semke, a mechanical engineer in SEM.
In development since 2001, AgCam will take frequent images for use as a decision support system resource by farmers, ranchers, tribal resource managers, researchers, and K-12 teachers for classroom use.
AgCam links: http://www.umac.org/sensors/agcam/eng.html; http://www.und.edu/agcam/; http://www.und.edu/agcam/dorgan.html; and http://www2.und.nodak.edu/our/news/story.php?id=2260
For more information, contact Doug Olsen, AgCam project manager, Center for People and the Environment, at 777-3543 or firstname.lastname@example.org.