Aerospace technologies supporting Agriculture 4.0

Aerospace technologies supporting...

Technologies from the aerospace sector make food production eco-friendly and improve the quality of what we bring to our tables. They may seem worlds apart, yet food and aerospace technology are strictly connected. Any technology, over time, even the most complex, becomes more accessible in terms of costs, fields of application and condition of use. It becomes precious even in sectors never before taken into consideration. Since the biggest challenges in the future are climate changes and the food supply, aerospace technologies result in true allies. In particular, new technologies are changing agriculture profoundly: away from the variability that has made it a naturally harsh and not profitable job, what goes under the name of Agriculture 4.0 or digital farming promises and offers real-time farming of precision, square metre after square metre, plant after plant [i]. Such agriculture founds on developing clear managing strategies that enhance quality and profit and reduce any environmental impact due to the excessive use of manure or pesticides. They support decisions for irrigation activities and supply prescription maps for sowing and fertilization. Apart from the increase of automation, it requires positioning techniques and effective mapping measures, to the level of the single plot, of biophysical parameters representative of the state of the plantation for which they are spreading more and more extensive monitoring technologies based on remote measurement. [ii] These observation processes produce a large quantity of data that, when adequately processed, becomes useful information in decision-making. Lastly, precision agriculture allows us to apply the proper treatment in a suitable place and time.


To demonstrate how the couple aerospace technology/agriculture is something serious, NASA, the American Space Agency, also took to the field. Today self-driving tractors work in most American farmlands thanks to the improvements that this Agency has applied to the GPS used on tractors since the 1990s. Furthermore, thanks to the ample use of satellite sensors, NASA helps farmers understand how much water they need to sprinkle on the ground through sensors placed on plants. These sensors collect the electric impulses transmitted and even predict the harvest [iii].

The UN too, through the Office For Outer Space Affairs, promotes numerous initiatives related to research and agriculture development, the monitoring of themes such as biodiversity, desertification, droughts, flooding, irrigation and use of water, mapping of the use of the land and agricultural production [iv].

There is no shortage of initiatives in this sense in Europe either. In 2021 the European Commission launched the European Innovation Partnership for Agricultural productivity and Sustainability (EIP-AGRI). This plan helps ensure a constant supply of food, animals feed and biomaterials and sustainable management of crucial natural resources on which agriculture and forestry depend [v]. Among the most significant actions adopted at a European level, we include Copernicus. It is an observation programme focused on monitoring the planet and its environment. It employs a great quantity of global data from satellites and terrestrial, aerial and maritime measurements. They all provide information beneficial for service providers, public authorities and other international associations to improve the quality of life of European citizens. [vi]. In particular, a series of satellites called Sentinel aid the programme. They monitor the usage, management, and changes in the territory, the waterproofing of the soil, agriculture, forestry, natural disasters, including floods, forest fires, landslides and erosion. They also offer assistance during humanitarian aid missions.

Among the international programmes, there is also one entirely Italian: Nicolaus – Networked Intelligent Computing with Observation satellites for precision Agriculture Unified Sensing – within the European Regional Development Fund aerospace programme. Sardegna Ricerche and the POR FESR 2014-2020 fund (European Regional Development Fund) has financed it to implement a platform able to improve the big data from the lands of Sardinia. Suitably processed, the data deliver information on soil fertility, crop vigour, the quantity of chlorophyll, water stress, presence of water or pollutants in a field. Furthermore, these reports integrate with those coming from a series of sensors installed among the rows and from precise meteorological maps to design tailor-made agricultural processes. By examining in detail the needs of a plot, it will be possible, for example, to limit irrigation and fertilizers to the portions of land that need them, reducing the amount of water and treatments to the benefit of both crops and the environment [vii].

Given the above, although the food and aerospace sector may seem worlds apart and incompatible, the repercussions of these technologies and the digital data in the food sector are relevant. These are bound to occupy a more crucial role, given the climate changes and a broader request for environmental sustainability. That means it is possible and necessary to innovate even those sectors that appear strongly tied to the past.


[i] L’azienda agricola del futuro come un’impresa aerospaziale, 29 ottobre 2021,

[ii] Tecnologie aerospaziali integrate a supporto dell’agricoltura di precisione, Ente per le nuove tecnologie, l’energia e l’ambiente (ENEA) 2015,

[iii] NASA is Everywhere: Farming Tech with Roots in Space, February 12th, 2019,

[iv] Space for Agriculture Development and Food Security, United Nations Office For Outer Space Affairs,

[v] How Can Space Make a Difference for the Agriculture Sector, p 4

[vi] Copernicus,

[vii] Sardegna Ricerche, 1 mln per l’agricoltura di precisione, 13 novembre 2021,



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