Space Fire Station: Satellites to detect wildfires

Three, two, one, ignition – and lift off. “It’s a bright, beautiful morning as the SpaceX Rocket Cape Canaveral flies through the cloudless sky. Astronauts around the world are following the live broadcast. At 5:33 pm German time, the control center said: “The Ororatech separation has been confirmed.” The missile successfully launched the Ororatech satellite into orbit.

50 percent more wildfires by the end of the century

For the forests of the world it must be the beginning of an aid mission from space. This is because soon the satellite will use a thermal imaging camera to quickly detect and report wildfires around the world, causing as little damage as possible. This is becoming more and more important as the risk of wildfires increases with climate change. The UN recently predicted a 50 percent increase in fires by the end of this century. In the past, lookout posts in The Watchtower looked for sources of flames. Today, forest rangers fly over trees in planes or helicopters, and drones are also used.

In accessible areas, mobile phone masts or ex-surveillance towers are installed with pivoting cameras. But this is time consuming and generally only useful for commercial woods. “You can’t equip the whole Amazon with cameras,” says Bjorn Staffers. So Earth observation satellites have been providing information about wildfires around the world for some time. However, images at a distance of 36,000 kilometers are not very accurate to detect in advance in real time. The Ororatech satellite flies at an altitude of just 525 kilometers and can detect and report fires of up to 100 square meters.

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The nano satellite is only the size of a shoe box. This is very small as a specially designed infrared camera does not require the cooling that is normally required. “With the cold, the satellite will be significantly larger, more complex – and more expensive,” says Bjorn Stofers. In addition to the camera, the engineers have integrated a processor into the satellite, which processes logs in space and sends its alerts to Earth as a kind of SMS. This is much faster than the usual multi-gigabyte source data transmission to ground station.

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