NASA to Fight Forest Fires from Space

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Satellite sensors will catch forest fires before they spread.

When forest fires begin in remote regions, they can go undetected for lengthy periods of time, which lets them spread before emergency services even know they’re occurring. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, along with San Francisco-based start-up Quadra Pi R2E, are working on a new global network of sensors on satellites, called FireSat, that could uncover forest fires much more quickly and effectively than current technologies.

At present, satellites can detect forest fires twice a day and transmit large images to Earth. The goal of the project is to send much lower-resolution images about once a minute and include their exact latitude and longitude.

Robert Staehle, lead designer of FireSat at JPL says “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.”

FireSat will consist of over 200 thermal infrared imaging sensors aboard satellites that will be able to detect fires within 15 minutes from the time they start, as long as they are 30 – 50 feet wide. Within three minutes of this detection, FireSat will notify emergency responders who can decide on the best approach from the ground.

If detecting forest fires isn’t enough to convince you of these sensors’ value, they will also be able to detect explosions, oil spills and other dangerous high-heat events around the world.

NASA has turned to an unlikely source of funding for this project: Kickstarter. According to their page, the campaign was developed “to present the FireSat opportunity to the general public to determine whether enough grass-roots interest exists to advance the project.” Their goal is to raise $280,000 of the necessary $30 million from the public. They hope to have the system in space and fully operational by June 2018.

NASA to Fight Forest Fires from Space