NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and San Francisco-based company Quadra Pi R2E are developing a space-based wildfire detector that can keep an eye on the whole world. This system, called FireSat, will be made up of over 200 thermal infrared imaging sensors installed on satellites in low-Earth orbit. It will be powerful enough to detect wildfires 35 to 50 feet wide within 15 minutes from the time they begin. And since wildfires spread very quickly, it will have the capability to contact authorities, so they can send emergency responders to the scene as early as possible.
FireSat is far from being the first of its kind, but unlike its predecessors that can only scan for fires every once in a while and send back high-res images that take time to transmit, it will be on the lookout 24/7 and will be able to send back low-res photos that first responders can use. The team proposed the idea to the government way back in 2011, but development has only begun due to budget constraints.
According to lead designer Robert Staehle from JPL:
Such a system has only now become feasible at a reasonable cost, enabled by advances in commercial microelectronics that NASA, JPL and universities have tested in space via CubeSat experiments, and by software technology originally developed to give Mars rovers and Earth orbiters more autonomy in their science observations.
The team will start flying out, installing and testing sensors in 2017 and plans to have everything up and running by June 2018.
[Image credit: Quadra Pi R2E]