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ESA AIR-SOS Validating Detection of Marine Litter from Space

ESA AIR-SOS Project Progress
Together with Skyflox and Plymouth Marine Laboratory "FAIR-SOS" was established as follow up project during summer 2022.
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

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: - A step forward in detecting plastic marine litter from space

Final Report

Project AIR-SOS: Airborne & satellite observation strategies for marine litter monitoring

Collecting Multispectral data from floating debris using a seaplane over the Elbe River coastal waters to validate current algorithms and methodologies

[Click to read the whole final report:]