ZALA unmanned systems in Antarctica

The Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute purchased UAS ZALA 421-08M ARCTIC for aerial surveillance during expeditions. Now scientists use the unmanned system in Antarctica.

Assistant Director of 65th Russian Antarctic expedition, Andrei Myrakin and geophysicist Svetlana Grigoryeva told us about their work and shared their impressions of ZALA UAS application:

Few words about our work

Russian Antarctic expedition – is the main operator of the Russian Federation in Antarctica and it solves a wide range of tasks like provision of polar stations and support of Russian researches on the continent. In the season of the 65th Russian Antarctic expedition use ZALA unmanned systems on the Progress station, located at the Larsemann Hills, Antarctic oasis on the East Antarctica.

Why we need drones

Research station Progress – is one of the most loaded stations in Antarctica. Besides a great amount of scientific programs, a heavy volume of logistics routes is concentrated here. The main purpose of the logistics operations is to supply Vostok station, located 1400 km away from the shore.    

For shipping a cargo to the station, at first it is necessary to provide a safe route for transport – the expedition ship must reach the shore, than the cargo must be unloaded from the ship on the “ground” and further be transported to a point, from where it will be delivered to the station by tracked vehicle. Ice cracks, which can be several meters wide, hidden holes, water inrush are very dangerous because they can destroy the transport route. That is why it is necessary for us to early detect the spots of thaw holes and cracks.

So now we use ZALA 421-08M for ice observation, survey water hydrological objects, use aerial imagery for mapping and engineering investigations.
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Results, that we got using ZALA unmanned system

We observed ice within the route of our expedition ship to the Progress station. After ice falling on March 2019, there are a lot of icebergs near the shore, so it was important to establish their size and location to correct the ship route. Besides, we found wide cracks on the sea ice. During unloading it would be impossible to force them with tractors, so it is necessary for the ship to come to the shore as close as possible. Usually the ice was observed from large helicopters, but application of unmanned systems is more cost effective and efficient choice.

Also we surveyed the glacier, on the way of the transport route. After that we analyzed images and found the spots, where the cracks were probable to start. We are going to do it every month just to track the dynamics.
Our opinion about ZALA 421-08M

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To speak briefly – we are really excited. To speak in details – the drone successfully completes all the tasks, for which we bought it. Right now there is no need to complete flight missions at extreme weather conditions, so we can’t say anything about UAV behavior at gales-force winds or freezing frost.

We really like its long range and endurance. The claimed endurance is 80 minutes, but in fact it lasts up to 102 minutes and still the battery hasn’t run out. The most distant point that our UAV reached was 15 km away and we had a reliable communication. During one flight we can shoot photos of 2 sq km area.

The image quality is also perfect. Since the relief is somewhat complicated we do not risk to fly lower than 400 m above the sea level, but on the obtained orthomosaic maps we can easily see foot traces on the snow, seals, and, certainly, objects like buildings, vehicles or icebergs.

Beyond the technical parameters and specifications, we highly appreciate the technical support and training. We are so grateful and often mentally say thanks to our instructors of the Training center for what they did for us and how they succeeded to put all the knowledge and skills in our heads. Now after few months of our unsupervised work we haven’t come across any situations that we could not cope with.

And, what we really like – is the easy and tool-free maintenance of the unmanned system.

When you are 15 000 km away from the nearest service center, you must be able to maintain the system and know how to do small repair yourself.

You see that our application environment is unconventional and even challenging, so our instructors are always in touch with us, we receive their recommendations and sometimes video tutorials.

We did not want to sound “too positive” and wanted to write an objective assessment, but we are really happy with what the unmanned system does and how it helps to improve our work.

So thanks again to ZALA AERO and, special thanks to the Training center!
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