Stratospheric balloon launched to test hyperspectral imager

The Challenge


Water is our most important and vital resource. The health of our coastal environments and inland waterways is essential for maintaining safe water for drinking, for use by primary industries and preserving our natural environments.

The CSIRO Space Optics Team are developing CyanoSat, a shoebox sized satellite designed and developed in Australia with the goal of monitoring Australian waterways. 22The payload will contain a hyperspectral imager capable of imaging 200+ spectral bands in the visible to near infrared with approximately 50-meter ground sampling distance.

The hyperspectral imager uses a spectrometer to measure contiguous spectral bands reflecting from the Earth’s surface capturing the information in 3-D data cubes. All objects and materials have a distinct spectral signature which enable their identification within these data cubes. This allows their presence in the specific locations on Earth to be detected from the satellite with great accuracy.

The CyanoSat project is a major steppingstone towards CSIROs AquaWatch project. This project is designed to establish an integrated ground-to-space national water quality monitoring system by 2026.

Aims for CyanoSat

  • Develop a payload suitable for early detection of algal blooms and contaminants to reduce economic impacts to fishing and tourism.
  • Drive the development of Australian advanced manufacturing and engineering.
  • Support the development of data analytics platforms, programs and data value-adding jobs that integrate prediction modelling, data analysis and environmental monitoring.

Stratospheric Balloon Launch

Partnering with Lux Aerobot, a space robotics company specializing in the design, manufacturing, and operation of high-altitude platforms (HAPs), the team launched a lightweight payload into the stratosphere. The payload consisted of a hyperspectral imager (5 nm resolution), a panchromatic imager, IMU/GPS tracker and a GoPro camera for video.   

The payload reached an altitude of ~35km during its 3.5-hour flight over north western Victoria imaging farmland, waterways, and native vegetation before coming to rest in The Little Desert National Park.

The flight was designed to test not only the imager but also to investigate the suitability of other subsystems such as thermal management system, a common weak point in HAPs platforms due to the ‘space like’ vacuum environment as well as the software subsystem. The imager recorded for the entire duration of the flight indicating all subsystems worked as planned.

Team leader Dr Stephen Gensemer said of the flight, “Everything worked flawlessly. We had some technical issues in the days leading up to the launch but some hard work from the team resulted in a huge success.”

The team recorded over two terabytes of data during the flight that they have already started processing. The ultimate goal here is to develop onboard machine learning algorithms to reduce the amount of data needed to be downlinked to Earth.

Ongoing Work

2022 is poised to be a busy year for the team as they finalise the design and construction of a prototype hyperspectral imager set to launch in October. This will be CSIRO’s first hyperspectral imager in space and will pave the way for technologies to be used in CyanoSat and other Earth observation payloads going forward.