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U.S. Wildfires Highlight Need for a Low-Cost Fire Detection and Monitoring Constellation

The western U.S. has been suffering from a series of wildfires in the last few months. The Black Forest Fire, the most destructive fire on record in Colorado, destroyed over 500 homes and charred more than 14,000 acres during a 10-day period. California has also been subject to a spate of wildfires with over 680 incidents in the state so far this year.
A recent report by U.S. Forest Service scientists claims that climate change will cause wildfires to increase by 50% to 100% in the U.S. by 2050, which means that there is increasing interest in finding ways to ensure early detection and safe, timely, and appropriate deployment of fire-fighting resources on the ground.
The UK-DMC2 satellite, which is part of the Disaster Monitoring Constellation (DMC), acquired this image of the Springs Fire on the California coastline May 2.
UK-DMC2 image of fires burning in California © DMCii, 2013. Smoke is clearly visble rising from the dark burnscar caused by the fires.
The DMC constellation, built by Surrey and operated by Surrey’s remote sensing subsidiary DMCii, is a constellation of independently owned but collectively operated satellites. While one satellite alone is not able to achieve rapid revisits, constellations of small Earth observation (EO) satellites like the DMC constellation can provide the coverage required to effectively monitor disasters.

Fire monitoring satellites can provide complementary mission data to traditional EO satellites. ScanEx, a remote sensing company, uses EO data alongside fire-monitoring data to great effect in the development of the Kosmosnimki – Fires service, which maps fires across the world. For the service, ScanEx uses the data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instruments flying on NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites to detect thermal “hot spots.” ScanEx then employs higher-resolution 22-meter imagery from the DMC constellation to provide information on the fire’s size and spread and the damage caused, as shown in this image of fires affecting over 120,000 acres in Russia..

Extensive burnt areas in Khabarovsk Territory. UK-DMC2 image, acquired on May 4, 2013 (с) DMCii, ScanEx RDC

Ideally, fire monitoring satellites would be deployed into orbits which allow local ground observation in the afternoon, when most fires tend to start, rather than late-morning or noon for traditional EO missions requiring maximum daylight illumination for scene capture.
Applying the DMC constellation business model of pooling resources and sharing data within the community, taking advantage of continued developments of smaller low-cost infrared sensors capable of capturing higher-resolution data, and leveraging the improved data processing, analysis, navigation, control, and communications capabilities of small satellites would make it possible for a constellation of as few as four small satellites to provide the cost-effective, yet high-value, rapid, regular, and detailed information necessary to enable fire management teams to make the right decisions.

Surrey US is currently investigating how capable small infrared satellites could be applied to help with a serious fire situation in the U.S. and is pursuing opportunities to define operational systems that could be quickly deployed.


21 June 20130 Comments1 Comment

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