NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, is developing a network of space-based sensors called FireSat in collaboration with Quadra Pi R2E, a San Francisco-based organisation set up to facilitate the project..
The constellation of more than 200 satellites housing thermal infrared imaging sensors is designed to quickly locate wildfires around the globe.
“While many wildfires are reported by 9-1-1 calls soon after ignition, some are not, and delays in detection can lead to rapid escalation of a fire, and dramatic growth of the cost of suppression. The system we envision will work day and night for fires anywhere in the world,” said Robert Staehle, lead designer of FireSat at JPL.
The FireSat sensors would be able to detect fires that are at least 10 to 15 metres wide, within an average of 15 minutes from the time they begin. Within three minutes of detecting a fire from orbit, FireSat would notify emergency responders in the area of the fire, improving support for time-critical response decisions.
JPL hopes the system will be in place by JUne 2018 and says it has only just become feasible at a reasonable cost thanks to advances in commercial microelectronics such as CubeSat (see Space cubes – the tiny satellites transforming space exploration)
Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.
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