Soil Moisture Mapping sUAS

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Developed under a NASA small business innovative research grant, the soil moisture mapping small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) is a low cost, simple to operate platform with a highly capable passive L-band microwave radiometer that provides measurements of volumetric soil moisture content over agricultural-plot sized areas. Tight integration of the sensor with the sUAS avionics and airframe enables precision flight control for low altitude missions permitting the sensor to accurately map soil moisture to a range of 5 to 20cm in depth with 15m resolution.

Why Does Soil Moisture Matter?

Soil moisture is an important factor associated with:
  • Monitoring Drought
  • Predicting Floods
  • Supporting Crop Production
  • Improving Weather Forecasting
  • Linking Water, Energy and Carbon Cycles
  • More details can be found online here


The Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) Satellite has been developed by NASA to collect soil moisture data on a global scale. More information on this mission can be found here.

How to Map Soil Moisture

The soil moisture algorithm

An outline of the soil moisture mapping process.

This data process requires the output of the passive L-band radiometer which is logged at an incredibly high rate. This high rate necessitated a proprietary data logger which is capable of logging data at 60 million samples per second. This data processing also required the development of an NDVI sensor (more information)

This mission is particularly demanding and requires the sUAS to fly at 15 meters above the ground and follow the terrain at this height for the duration of the mission. In order to obtain these tight requirements, the Soil Moisture Mapping sUAS utilizes the SwiftCore Flight Management System which has embedded terrain following capabilities.

All of these capabilities will be evaluated during upcoming flight tests over an instrumented soil moisture facility. These flight tests will validate system performance and have been approved by both the FAA and NASA to fly within the National Airspace System (i.e. not restricted airspace) which is unique among