NOVA Weather Balloon Initial Flight


Authors: Internship project by GIS student Gustavo R. Zastrow. Supervised by Professor Michael J. Krimmer and Professor James S. Brown. Northern Virginia Community College

Abstract title: Revisiting Tournachon – How balloon aerial photography has been moved out of history and into the GIS classroom

erial photography has come a long way since the famous balloonist Gaspar Felix Tournachon (known as Nadar) took the first aerial photograph in 1858. However using weather balloons for taking aerial photos is becoming increasingly popular as an inexpensive way of capturing images for GIS/Remote Sensing use. Northern Virginia Community College, department of Geospatial Studies has developed an internship project to study the use of weather balloons and modified digital cameras as a way to capture aerial imagery. This imagery will later be processed using commercial as well as open source GIS software.

This project which is currently being implemented, not only takes in consideration the affordability of the solution, but also a low environmental impact compared to traditional methods. Whereas conventional methods involve airplanes or satellites, this one uses a helium filled weather balloon on a fixed tether thus there is no need to use harmful fossil fuel or invest a huge amount of time and money for a small project. In addition a re-purposed digital camera is used to capture NIR (Near Infrared) by modifying the camera’s filter, and the camera firmware is hacked to allow for time-lapse photos to be taken as the balloon hovers over the campus. By using this approach, thousands of nadir images can be easily taken so that the chance of not having any usable images is practically nil. The resultant imagery of the Loudoun NVCC campus will be rectified and registered and will become educational material for GIS and Remote Sensing classes. In addition the photos will be the basis for using GIS software to digitize fields, parking areas, and building outlines where other campus CAD drawings are not available.

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