Flight Ops

ESA "AIR-SOS - Validating Detection of Marine Litter From Space

This project aims to collect high-quality and high-resolution data on floating objects in coastal waters near the mouth of the River Elbe. It will use a seaplane on clear and still (low wind) days to collect data at the same time as the Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellites collect data of the same location. In this way, the project will assess and validate the ability of Sentinel-2 and developed algorithms to monitor floating plastic marine litter from space.


Höltken Solutions and partners have entered a European Space Agency contract to validate and assess plastic marine litter remote detection, using amphibious aircraft as carrier for multispectral camera systems.
AUFWIND now has taken over the aeronautical activities from Höltken Solutions and has become partner in the AIR-SOS study with Skyflox and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.
The AIR-SOS (AIRborne & Satellite Observation Strategies for marine litter monitoring) study aims to address the problem of limited validation data by collecting high quality and high resolution in situ data over the coastal waters outside of the Elbe River in central Europe. The main objective of this study is to evaluate the capability of sensors flown in demo flights to detect marine litter and validate algorithms used to process the acquired data. This will be performed alongside Sentinel-2A/B MSI data.
Marine Litter is a global issue and can be found in all the seas from the equator to the poles, and in freshwater systems, such as rivers and lakes. The majority of marine litter is plastic. Between 4.8 and 12.7 million tonnes of land originating plastic entered the oceans in 2010 alone, and plastic production continues to increase.

Plastic marine litter dramatically affects marine life and ecosystems and has a great economic impact on coastal communities, tourism, and fisheries. It furthermore poses a concern for human health due to contamination of seafood with plastic particles and associated pollutants.

Existing ground-based data collection systems are unable to answer fundamental questions such as those related to plastic marine litter concentrations and spatial and temporal dynamics, and remote marine litter detection research is in its infancy, thus reliable data is required to validate detection methods.

The AIR-SOS project is a first step towards the use of Skyflox' ORCA (concept to use commercial airliners as a platform carrying small remote-sensing equipment, supported under the ESA Business Applications Programme) as a marine litter service, which will enable a consistent and effective Marine Litter Detection service, by combining airborne and satellite data, and will likely prove essential in developing and enforcing legislation around marine litter

SkyfloX will coordinate the work with Plymouth Marine Laboratory, experts in aquatic optics and hi-res image satellite processing, and Aufwind, experienced in flight operations, approvals and compliance, to integrate the payload and coordinate the test campaign.

Aufwind's AIR-SOS Project Partners

SkyfloX Sárl
SkyfloX Sárl
Plymouth Marine Laboratory
Plymouth Marine Laboratory
Hi-Res Image Satellite Processing

Associated Partners within the Project

Aircraft Design Certification GmbH
Aircraft Design Certification GmbH
EASA-approved Design Organization


Aufwind´s Lake LA-200 D-EALG. The Airplane has previously flown for Deutsche Küstenwache e.V., a german NGO. They have been flying Oil Spill Surveillance from the mid-1980ies on for nearly 30 years. The NGO is still registered and could become active again with Aufwind's Cooperation. Copyright: M. Brehmer.

The Lake LA 4-200 was designed in the 1950s by David Thurston, a former Grumman engineer. It has been built over 1000 times between 1959 and 2003 in different varieties. It is built out of Aluminium hat has been hardened and corrosion proofed. The LA-4-200 ist powered by a Lycoming IO-360 air-cooled four-cylinder direct-drive aircraft engine with fuel injection with 150 kW (200 hp) power output.

On board the aircraft we have a pilot, a task specialist, emergency gear, marine tools, sensing and data processing equipment. We carry two bays for earth observation equipment in the wings.

Advantages for the mission

Low Emissions

Being a single engine aircraft, it uses considerable less fuel and thus emits considerable less CO2 than multi engine aircraft or helicopters. Did you know that Aufwind compensates for the CO2 emissions of our flights?

High Flexibility

Being a manned aircraft, we operate in the public accessible airspace. We can operate from any land based airfield and do not need a marine supply vessel that would be necessary for drone operations of equivalent range. Being able to fly into our target area, we can gather information fast and react flexible on changes of the operating area

High Safety

Although only certified for takeoffs in 0.3 m waves, the Lake can be landed in much higher seastates in case of an emergency – up to a meter wave height. Also, it has been reported that lakes can endure more than 3 meter wave height, once in the water. This is, of course, no scenario we want to test, but it is enough for the crew to survive an emergency within the north sea. Nonetheless, Aufwind is performing egress and emergency training for all pilots and task specialists on board

A Real Eye In The Sky

The Lake has room and useful load not only for the equipment, but also for a task specialist and data processing units. The Data scientist on board can determine in situ the quality of the acquired data and decide if further approaches to specific points of interest are necessary. On seek-and-collect missions he can pinpoint areas of interest and compare situations with her/his own eyes.

How exactly does ESA use Space Technology against Marine Litter?

Visit ESA's website and read more about how they contribute to tackling the Marine Litter problem:

esa.int - A step forward in detecting plastic marine litter from space