Fire station in space: satellites detect forest fires

Three, two, one, ignition – and take off. “It’s a bright, beautiful morning when a SpaceX rocket blasts off from the Cape Canaveral Cosmodrome into clear skies. Space enthusiasts around the world tune in. In his office in Munich, Bjorn Stoffers is looking for colleagues from the startup Ororatech. They’ve worked for this. Today for five years. At 5:33 pm German time, the control center said: “Ororatech separation has been confirmed.” The launch vehicle successfully launched the Ororatech satellite into orbit. The Munich team rejoices, the founders’ dream has come true.

Increased wildfires by 50 percent by the end of the century

For the world’s forests, it should be the start of a space-assisted mission. Because the satellite will soon use a thermal imaging camera to detect and report wildfires around the world so early that they cause as little damage as possible. This is becoming more important because the risks of wildfires are increasing with climate change. The United Nations recently projected 50 percent more severe fires by the end of the century. In the past, watch posts on watchtowers would monitor flame sources. Today, rangers fly over the treetops in planes or helicopters, and drones are also deployed.

In accessible areas, coaxial cameras are installed on mobile phone towers or former watchtowers. But this is time consuming and is usually only feasible for commercial foresters. “You can’t equip the whole Amazon region with cameras,” says Bjorn Stoffers. Therefore, Earth observation satellites have been providing information about wildfires around the world for some time. However, images from a distance of 36,000 km are very inaccurate for early detection in real time. The Ororatech satellite flies at an altitude of only 525 kilometers and can detect and report fires from an area of ​​100 square metres.

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A nanosatellite is only the size of a shoebox. It is so small that the specially developed infrared camera does not usually require the required cooling. “With cooling, the satellite will be much larger and more complex — and much more expensive,” says Bjorn Stoffers. In addition to the camera, the engineers have integrated a processor into the satellite, which processes recordings in space and sends its warnings back to Earth like a kind of SMS. This is much faster than the usual transfer of many gigabytes of raw data to a ground station.

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