We work with clients on many different mission profiles, and one of the common questions we ask at the start is: Are you mapping, or are you monitoring? There are some key differences between mapping and monitoring that have big impacts on your mission design and data processing pipeline.


Mapping missions share many common traits, regardless of the sensor type or the downstream application of the resulting data. They are commonly defined by:

Wide area coverage: mapping missions seek to cover large areas of territory. This is usually done by flying as high as possible and maximizing swath of the sensor.

One pass: in mapping the goal is collect the data and move on, this means you generally only cover each area once.

Specific weather conditions: In mapping you are creating a consistent data set that is captured over a period of weeks or months. This means you’ll need to have specific weather conditions like sun angle, cloud cover, and even wind levels. It can vary depending on your sensor type and should remain consistent. Some sensors, like radar or lidar are less affected by weather conditions which creates significant flexibility.

Lower urgency: perhaps the key differentiator between mapping and monitoring is the urgency level. In mapping you are collecting data of the territory and this isn’t usually changing rapidly. Of course, you can always perform change detection or comparisons of the current data to a previous data set. However, you’re still comparing slow-changing features.

Read more: Building a High Altitude Mapping Platform


Monitoring is a different beast than mapping. It’s characterized by specific targets, tight time windows, and rapidly changing conditions that matter to the end user.

Monitoring missions are commonly defined by:

Target areas: in monitoring you have target areas that you’re watching for specific changes. This could be industrial emissions, volcanic activity, or security related targets. In a monitoring mission you’re not interested in a wide coverage area, you’re focused on the important targets.

Repeat visits: if you’re running a monitoring mission you’re watching for specific changes or conditions, this means you’ll need to repeatedly visit the target areas to observe the changes.

Read more: Change Detection

Flexible weather conditions: Since monitoring missions aren’t creating a contiguous product from data gathered over time you have more flexibility with weather conditions like sun angle, cloud cover, and wind. Since your target areas are smaller you have a good chance that you can find an open weather window over your target area.

High urgency: as with mapping missions, the key differentiator here is urgency. In monitoring missions you’re looking for ephemeral or rapidly changing situations which necessitates frequent sorties, and multiple passes.

Read more: MethaneAIR Transforms Methane Emissions Monitoring with IO Aerospace

As technology improves, new sensors come on line, and demand increases there are growing markets for both mapping and monitoring missions. Whether you’re mapping or monitoring you’ll need to ensure that you have the best aircraft for the job.

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