The AEROKATS program utilizes kites as a science platform for capturing data and images from an aerial perspective. The kites carry a NASA patented technology (Patent # US 8,196,853 B2) called Aeropods that keep the instruments stable and aligned with the wind during flight. AEROKATS utilizes a large catalog of kites and Aeropods to capture a variety of data for use in both scientific research and education.


Why Kites?

  • Kites are an accessible and affordable method for gaining an aerial perspective.
  • Observation techniques similar to those in use on NASA spacecraft and aircraft can be easily demonstrated and explored.
  • The kite’s “Birds-Eye” vantage point from above is beneficial for many of NASA’s Earth science research activities.  Kites are well suited for local-scale observations by a wide variety of users.
  • Teamwork and fun are embedded in AEROKATS kite flights, promoting a unique and meaningful learning environment.

The below kite is called a 9ft Delta. This kite and the 7ft Delta are both capable of carrying AeroPod payloads. They fly stably at most wind speeds, but are more suited than the Alpine for higher wind speeds.

The Hata is the smallest of the group and is unable to carry an AeroPod. It is used as a pilot kite. Flying a Hata is useful because it provides information about the wind conditions higher up in the atmosphere that is important in determining the best Aeropod kite.

The above kite is called an Alpine DC. It is one of  the “workhorse” kite models because it is capable of carrying the various AeroPods in flight. While the Alpine is the most expensive kite, it is the most reliable for flying in low to medium wind speeds.

The Parafoil 10 can also carry an AeroPod. It flies best when the winds are medium to high speeds and constant. Because there is no support structure in the kite, if the wind speed is variable it has the potential to collapse on itself and fall from the sky.


Aerodynamically stabilized instrument platform

The AeroPod is a passive device that uses aerodynamic forces to stabilize an instrument package suspended from a kite or tethered blimp. It is a low-altitude custom remote sensing platform craft designed for, but not limited to, agricultural and environmental research purposes. AeroPods can be used for a variety of remote sensing and in-situ observations.

  • Light weight, simple to construct, and has no moving parts.
  • Can be used for a variety of remote sensing and in-situ observations.
  • Able to accommodate many different-sized instruments, even bulky ones.
  • Offers a low-cost alternative to other remote sensing and observation techniques.
MonoCam captures visible images. Can configure the camera to capture images every couple seconds to gather a series of images that can later be stitched into larger map. Standard MonoCams currently come in three main flavors:
  • MonoCam Starter (vTech or similar camera),
  • Monocam Sport (GitUp Camera (170º or 90º FOV),
  • Monocam Pro (Panasonic Lumix TS25 camera)
The MonoCam camera options will evolve as new instruments become available. There are many other experimental systems in continuous testing.  Below is an example of an image captured with the MonoCam:
Aerial view of baseball diamonds and woods.

The Profiler measures and records weather data derived from temperature, pressure, humidity, altitude, and windspeed.  It is used in flight to capture profiles of data as the instrument ascends and descends through the atmosphere. The profiler has applications in recording small scale (temporal and scalar) atmospheric data, as well as, capturing localized atmospheric phenomenon.

Consists of a Kestrel 5500.

The TwinCam captures near simultaneous images in in both visible and near infrared and can be configured to capture images every couple seconds. With both visible and near-IR images it’s possible to use image processing software to perform image classification, or vegetation indexing for example. This allows us to measure impervious surface, or  vegetation health productivity.

This TwinCam model consists of two Mobius-1 Action Cameras, one modified to view only Near Infrared light.

Other models are in development. 

Below is an example of images captured with a TwinCam:

Side by side images of visible and near-infrared of a grassy field bordered by water

The VideoPod simultaneously records video footage and transmit it to a receiver on the ground so the video can be viewed in flight.  The VideoPod uses Tactic brand cameras, 5.8 GHz transmitters
and receiver/monitor/dvr units. The airborne camera and transmitter are
powered by a 9 volt alkaline battery, using about 1 watt of power. This
gives about an hour of line-of-sight video at a maximum range of
~500 feet to the ground based receiver/monitor/dvr.

More Details

Click the images above for more details regarding each instrument including: instrument specs, STL files for 3D printing Aeropod parts, calibration and assembly instruction, printable flight log book, and data management information. Please note that in order to print the stl files and utilize AREN technology, participants will need to follow the instructions on the Participate page.

Engineering and 3D Printing


Engineering is an important part in designing both the kite and the aeropods themselves. 

When designing kites there are a lot of components that come into play, primarily aerodynamic forces. A kite’s aerodynamics are influenced by a variety of factors including weight, dimensions, curvature, etc. There are several different kites that can be built from home to become acquinted with the forces that act onsite flight. It’s possible to construct low cost  and functional kites using a sewing machine and tyvek material. Similarly, one could make miniatures kites using tissue paper that fly as well as larger kites but with a much smaller wind velocity that can be generated just by waving an arm back and forth. The benefit of building a kite from scratch is affordability as well as being able to customize and alter the kite for better performance.

The aeropod is designed to carry instrumentation and fly stably beneath a kite. On the front end is the mount for the instrument that both holds the instrument in place and protects it in case the aeropod falls. On the back end are perpendicular fins that keep the aeropod directionally oriented with the wind as well as dampens the sway introduced by the wind. Lastly, in the middle of the aeropod is a pylon. The pylon is an adjustable part that is located at the center of gravity so that the kite hangs in balance and is more stable during flight.

Diagram of monocam aeropod pointing out the individual parts.

3D Printing

A 3D printer is a machine that draws in plastic filament and heats it so the its malleable and then lays down the filament in a pattern dictated by a 3D modeled file. In using a 3D printer, a students would be exposed to a variety of engineering concepts from the mechanics of the 3D printer to the design and testing of the 3D modeled parts. When designing aeropod parts the primary concerns are weight, strength, and ease of printing. A successful 3D part is strong and as light weight as possible, it needs to be able to withstand the force of the aeropod falling out of the air, as well as be light enough for the kite to lift relatively easily. It’s also important to design the parts with other people in mind. Not everyone’s 3D printers are the same type or quality and for everyone to be able to print an aeropod, the parts have to be easy to print with minimal changes to printer settings.To design 3D parts we primarily use the software TinkerCAD that is free and accessible through a web browser. TinkerCAD provides user friendly exposure to a 3D designing environment to introduce people to the idea of engineering design.. Overhang… printer settings.

Software Tools

AEROKATS utilizes a variety of tools to analyze the data captured from flights. The majority of tools are provided by Public Labs and are open access. These tools allow users to manipulate images and extract more meaningful information out of the data.

Common Online Data Analysis Platform is a free web program that aids users in analyzing data from excel files

Public Labs tool for combining and positioning images in geographic space into a composite image map

Public Labs tool for analyzing plant health with near-infrared imagery

Public Labs tool for removing lens distortion (“fisheye” effect or “barrel distortion”) from images, especially those taken with a GoPro or Mobius Action Cam

MultiSpec is an image processing tool to display and analyze geospatial images

Image Sequencer
Public Labs tool for image processing — based on the idea of a storyboard. Each modification makes a new copy of the image, resulting in a series of images showing each step