An eye above to ensure crop health below

Observing changes on Earth, improving weather predictions and measuring precipitation can influence policy change and help farmers better mitigate impacts to crops.

The NASA and U.S. Geological Survey’s Landsat program and NASA’s Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission provide critical space-based measurements of land changes and precipitation, respectively.

GPM delivers information about rainfall rates, including droughts and flooding. This data helps provide insights into the best locations to plant crops. Similarly, Landsat data provides a broad view of crop health based on observations in the red and near-infrared bands that are combined into an index, called the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), that manifests vegetation health. These tools are used by the agriculture industry to plan for crop rotations and better manage plantings overall.

For example, since 2014, many states in the western U.S. have suffered from a megadrought. Crops traditionally grown in those areas are no longer prospering. States that grew crops requiring heavy irrigation, like almonds, have since been rotated to less water-dependent crops. Landsat and GPM data can help provide insight into the exact locations where almonds, and other heavy irrigation crops, can continue to grow, or areas where soil is now better suited to grow different crops.

Another example is a bit closer to home. Landsat images can show changes to watersheds over time, which directly impact agriculture. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Pueblo County, Colorado, has over 900 farms, which grow Pueblo’s famous green chili peppers and other produce. Pueblo’s crop health relies heavily on the Pueblo Reservoir for irrigation. Landsat images detect seasonal changes to the reservoir. Being sensitive to soil moisture, they help to monitor crop health and provide information on irrigation needs during a growing season.

Landsat and GPM data are essential for making informed decisions about land usage and crop health. Information regarding Landsat data that is available to the public can be found here. Information about GPM data available to the public can be found here.

Ball Aerospace’s role on Landsat and GPM

The Landsat program is a series of Earth-observing satellite missions jointly managed by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey. Ball Aerospace built the Operational Land Imager (OLI) and Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS) cryocooler for Landsat 8, which launched February 2013. Ball also built OLI-2 and the TIRS-2 cryocooler for Landsat 9, which launched in September 2021.

The Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission, a joint effort between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), provides enhanced global precipitation measurements. Ball built the GPM Microwave Imager (GMI) and provided pre- and post-launch support for the instrument.

Figure 1 – Image Credit: USGS/NASA Pueblo Reservoir, high fill, March 25, 2019
Figure 2 – Image Credit: USGS/NASA Pueblo Reservoir, low fill, Sept. 25, 2021