NASA Spinoff

Imaging Systems Provide Maps for U.S. Soldiers

For the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Army Geospatial Center (AGC), BuckEye addresses a need for unclassified high-resolution geospatial data for tactical missions for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. The AGC strives to make Buckeye data available to U.S. fighting forces and supporting agencies in a timely fashion. The information can improve the soldiers’ situational awareness by providing highly accurate imagery that can be used to produce current, high-resolution reference graphics and image maps for terrain analysis and operating environment visualization.

As soon as imagery and LIDAR are received at the AGC, they are checked for quality and adjusted to eliminate any distortion due to the camera, lens, or topography. Then the images are combined into large mosaics. The resulting information is available online or through the AGC’s Dissemination Team, including GeoPDF Mapbooks, DVDs, and through high-resolution Urban Tactical Planner databases.

In 2005, BuckEye was deployed to Iraq on a fixedwing aircraft for an urban mapping mission. In addition to a digital color camera, the LIDAR sensor collected high-resolution, high-accuracy elevation data to provide images of urban landscapes and complex terrain. By 2010, the BuckEye had collected over 85,000 square kilometers of data over urban areas and along main supply routes in Iraq, including over 2,000 tiles of LIDAR elevation data at 1-meter resolution, and 1,800,000 color images at 10- to 15-centimeter resolution.

Between 2006 and 2010, three systems were deployed by Flight Landata to Afghanistan, where a majority of the imagery is quickly processed to provide rapid tactical information. To date, over 40,000 square kilometers of data have been collected. In addition, an Unmanned Aerial System, equipped with a miniaturized LIDAR sensor and BuckEye sensors, is currently operating in western Afghanistan.

According to Petra, one of the reasons the system is so unique is that the imagery it produces is unclassified, so every soldier can see the details of the environment that are critical to planning operations. “It is a unique capability to provide this class of product to soldiers on the front lines,” says Botha. “Had it not been for the NASA technology contracts, BuckEye might not have been deployed to support the war fighter at a critical time in the conflict.”

Now, BuckEye will be used to support the next Landsat Mission. Flight Landata’s airborne system and data reduction technology will be fused with NASA’s thermal infrared sensor technology to provide multispectral images that parallel the ones that will be produced by the sensors onboard LDCM. This data will directly support the calibration of the LDCM instruments. As Peter Shu, an engineer at Goddard who has worked on the remote sensing technology with Flight Landata through the SBIR program, says, “This is a consequence of the SBIR work with Flight Landata. Now we are using it to help in the development of the Landsat program.”