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Daniel Pereira dos Santos

Regional Sales Partner for Latin America by OroraTech GmbH


Fire detection and monitoring via satellites

Considering the approach of integrated fire management, the early detection of forest fires is the second most important aspect in the search for the reduction of damages related to these occurrences, with fire prevention efforts being in the foreground.

For this challenge, there are historical reports of ancestral peoples who already positioned themselves in higher areas, with the objective of detecting environmental fires. Over time, we started building observation towers at these points. And, much more recently, some of these towers have gained surveillance cameras.

From surveillance cameras to sophisticated forest fire detection and monitoring systems, evolution was natural. Today, there are many such tools with cameras that can detect smoke from wildfires as soon as they appear in the skies over our rural areas. These tools, depending on the day or night visibility condition, are able to detect smoke in radiuses many times greater than 20 kilometers.

Despite the numerous advantages of these solutions, both face their operational challenges. For example, in the towers with professionals, there are several difficulties regarding the health and safety conditions of the professional, such as: difficulty in moving to the tower, lack of adequate space for food and personal hygiene, as well as exposure to bad weather, making with which, in several situations, the station needs to be abandoned to maintain its safety.

As for systems with cameras, the main challenges are the still high investments needed in equipment compared to the coverage area, not to mention adverse weather conditions that can greatly reduce the efficiency of systems based on images captured by cameras, among other situations. Given that forest fires are becoming an increasingly present threat worldwide, there are several detection initiatives through devices installed on satellites. In general, these systems use two types of equipment: Geostationary and Low Earth Orbit satellites.

Geostationary satellites are high-orbiting satellites that travel at the same angular velocity as the Earth, remaining stationary at the same point. A satellite dish on the ground can therefore be aimed at a fixed point in the sky. They orbit at a distance of approximately 36,000 kilometers above the equator; a Geostationary satellite can provide information from any location in its coverage area and can detect and monitor fires that are producing relevant radiation, the radiative power of the fire, or approximately a fire with an area of 30 by 30 meters.

Low Earth Orbit satellites operate closer to Earth (less than 1,500 meters in altitude), so their coverage is much smaller (about 2,000 to 3,000 kilometers in diameter), which is why Low Earth Orbit constellations require a large number of satellites to cover a large area. Current Low Earth Orbits can detect smaller fire areas, approximately 10 by 10 meters.

Considering current satellite technology, we can summarize that Low Earth Orbit can detect fires very accurately, and Geostationary offers near real-time fire monitoring. However, the existing Low Earth Orbit satellite data sources are only partially sufficient to be considered an early detection solution, mainly due to data gaps that are considerably important in the early morning, for example, for Três Lagoas, in Mato Grosso do Sul.

South, in Brazil, from 3 am to 9 am, and mainly in the afternoon, where many fires are started, from 4 am to 10 am. Depending on the area of interest on planet Earth, we will see the same situation of two large windows, without coverage of Low Earth Orbit each day. So there's a real race to space by companies like OroraTech.

The company has an ambitious plan to produce its own constellation of nanosatellites equipped with multispectral imagers in the thermal and visible infrared range. Combining a patent-pending CubeSat structure with an optical system custom and in-orbit pre-processing capabilities.

In early 2022, OroraTech launched the first uncooled thermal infrared camera in space called Forest 1. This significant achievement was a springboard for maintaining plans to build a satellite constellation for a 12-hour revisit by 2024 and a 30-minute revisit by 2026. With the complete constellation, OroraTech, for example, with in-orbit processing and better image resolution, will allow us to obtain near real-time information for forest fire detection and mapping, weather forecasting and many other applications.

As briefly demonstrated here, this space race is ongoing, but with many steps still to be achieved. Certainly, the coming months and years will be highly challenging for the entire industry, but I am confident that this type of service will gain even more significant relevance very soon.