The team has already completed survey flights over Kaneohe Bay in Hawaii as a test and will complete flights over the Great Barrier Reef by the end of October. Photograph: Nasa
Hochberg said by studying vast sections of reefs at once the team would be able to compare a lot of different areas without missing sections.
Part of the research has involved developing an algorithm that lets scientists using the image sensor see through the water as if it wasnt there.
Tim Malthus from the CSIRO has been working on it for 10 years. If you want to see the corals, the intervening water is an influence, and weve been developing algorithms to remove the influence of that water, Malthus told Guardian Australia.
The planes will fly through six regions of the reef, stretching from Heron Island near the southern end all the way to the Torres Strait.
The team has already completed survey flights over Kaneohe Bay in Hawaii as a test and will fly over the Great Barrier Reef by the end of October. After that they will survey the main Hawaiian islands, Marianas islands and Palau.
The biggest promise the work holds out is in its future applications on satellites, Hochberg said.
A better way to understand reef health than a snapshot is to see how they change over time. Several groups plan to launch satellites with sensors that could produce this type of data. The Japanese space agency Jaxa is planning to launch HISUI in 2018 and the German Aerospace Laboratory is due to launch EnMap in 2019.
Nasa is considering one called HyspIRI, which is still in the conceptual stage.
According to Malthus, that will change the way coral reefs are studied. This is really a precursor for the next generation of satellites that will be in space, he said. It allows us to prepare and explore new algorithms for when these types of sensors are routinely operated in space.