In August of 2010, Earth System Science & Policy was approved as a full academic department in the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences. This was the academic culmination of 15 years of research, entrepreneurship, and academic innovation born out of the creation of the Upper Midwest Aerospace Consortium (UMAC) in 1995 and the establishment of the Northern Great Plains Center for People and the Environment (NGP CP&E) in 2001. A graduate degree program in Earth System Science and Policy was initially established in 2004. The origin of the program, its mission, and philosophical approach to sustainability, as well as its structure and original approach to teaching, and the present-day legacy embodied in the Department of Earth System Science & Policy are tied to, and rooted in, UMAC and NGP CP&E. Both structures were formed to create educational and research activities aimed at a sustainable Earth system and a prosperous economy, and have been leaders in using new technologies, such as remote sensing, geographic information system (GIS), and modeling/simulation for understanding the vast land expanses, and, consequently, the economy and ecology, of the northern Great Plains.
UMAC operated from 1995 to 2012. It aimed to provide information about the environment that enables people to make decisions improving their life. The consortium focused on data acquired by satellites and aircraft as the source of this information. The consortium was made up of participants from South Dakota State University, Sinte Gleska University, North Dakota State University, University of Minnesota-Crookston, Montana State University, University of Idaho, University of Wyoming, and the North Dakota Association of Tribal Colleges.
NGP CP&E was established in 2001 with the aim of building and nurturing learning communities and creating an integrated view of all Earth's systems in order to serve humankind's needs and desires for a sustainable and prosperous future. The NGP CP&E provided the intellectual and philosophical foundation for the establishment of the graduate degree program in Earth System Science & Policy established in 2004.
After running for 12 years, the services of DNGP and Zone Mapping Application for Precision-farming (ZoneMAP) were halted due to hardware failure. Initially funded by NASA, the systems were designed to provide easy access to remote sensing imagery and decision-support for precision agriculture for end-users in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho.
NSERC was formed jointly by NASA and the University of North Dakota. NSERC, a unit of UND's Northern Great Plains Center for People and the Environment, operates NASA's DC-8 flying research laboratory.
AEROCam operated from 2006 to 2012. It was an aircraft-based camera system that offered high-resolution, multispectral imagery to a wide variety of end-users throughout the UMAC area. Based on a 4-band multi-spectral Redlake MS-4100 camera, the imaging system supported image tasking requests in support of agriculture (farmers, ranchers, crop consultants, researchers), natural resources (federal, state, local agencies, researchers), and STEM education (university faculty, graduate students). AEROCam was designed and built by undergraduate and graduate students through a highly successful collaboration between the UND School of Engineering and Mines, UND Aerospace, and the NGP CP&E. Since 2006, AEROCam has supported over 350 direct users, collecting more than 180,000 images from over 1,200 unique sites from across the 6-state UMAC region.
The first version of ISSAC was launched to the International Space Station via the Space Shuttle Endeavour in November 2008. The second version of ISSAC was launched on the Japanese H-2 Transfer Vehicle in January 2011. Originally sponsored by the NASA Office of Education, ISSAC always had dual objectives of both enhancing education and collecting science imagery. The primary science objective of ISSAC has been to acquire rapid response imagery in support of regional agricultural and natural resource areas applications within the UMAC region during the northern growing. Secondary science objectives of ISSAC have been to acquire comparable imagery of UMAC outside the growing season and imagery of locations around the world, including in support of natural disasters, as resources allow. Following on the success of AEROCam, the first version of ISSAC was designed and built through a collaboration of students and faculty from UND's School of Engineering and Mines and the ESSP department. The second version of ISSAC was a 3-band (blue, green, infrared), multi-spectral sensor (built by Fluxdata Inc., Rochester, NY), together with a cross-track pointing system, mechanical mounting equipment, electrical power and data distribution components, and control software running in a NASA-supplied laptop, all designed to be installed by the astronaut crew into the Window Observational Research Facility (WORF) onboard the ISS. UND students wrote detailed crew installation procedures and staffed and operated the ISSAC Science Operations Center (SOC), which was located in Clifford Hall on the UND campus. This camera operated for three years, from 2011 to 2013.