Southern satellite project tipped to help farmers

Venture Southland enterprise projects manager Robin McNeill (left) and CGC project engineer Stuart Watkin stand outside Planet-Labs' radome at the Awaura Satellite Ground Station. Photo by Leeana Tamati
Venture Southland enterprise projects manager Robin McNeill (left) and CGC project engineer Stuart Watkin stand outside Planet-Labs' radome at the Awaura Satellite Ground Station. Photo by Leeana Tamati
A commercial agreement between Venture Southland and an international space information company may result in farmers being able to access up-to-date satellite images of their properties.

A 5m antenna has been constructed inside a 7m radome on Venture's Awarua property as part of the agreement between the Southland organisation and Planet-Labs, based in San Francisco.

The antenna is one of only two in the world which will download satellite images as they are taken by spacecraft orbiting the earth, and send the images to Planet-Labs' headquarters in San Francisco.

Venture enterprise project manager Robin McNeill said as part of the agreement, Venture Southland had rights to the images downloaded, which could be utilised by farmers to see a bird's-eye view of their properties.

''We want to use the images for primary production industry in Southland - farmers could have a much better understanding of how much feed is in their pasture, what forestry is going on, what logging is taking place and what potentially could take place.''

However, it would be several months before the antenna and satellite spacecraft were operational, and even longer before it was decided what to do with the images, Mr McNeill said.

''There is quite a lot of water to go under the bridge. This is a fledgling industry. We are having discussions with a few people about what to do next.

''Will the images be as good as we need them? We won't know until we see them.''

Planet-Lab's goal was to have satellites capturing images every minute of the day, essentially taking new photos of the entire Earth each day.

''What these guys are doing is a new way of earth observation from space.

The questions are: is it going to work, is there a market for it, and is it financially viable? It will be interesting to see,'' Mr McNeill said.

There was potential for the citizen space information company to be involved with humanitarian issues, as well as search and rescue.

''They are still thinking and we are still thinking of different ways to use this technology.''

- by Leeana Tamati