A new constellation of satellites is being developed to help Australia’s property management, insurance, geological, agriculture and defence industries pinpoint how bushfires are likely to start and spread.

The first of the new satellites is being built at the Australian National University’s Institute for Space (InSpace) at its Mount Stromlo campus, leveraging the institute’s mini-satellite and remote sensing capabilities.

“With this mission we will receive high-resolution infrared images and data of fuel conditions that will help firefighters on the ground,” Dr Marta Yebra, an InSpace mission specialist at ANU said.

Yebra regularly consults with emergency agencies and response teams across Australia on the bushfire risks posed by fuel loads, most recently advising the NSW Rural Fire Service during this summer’s unprecedented bushfire season.

“This infrared technology and data, which is not currently available, will help to target controlled burns that can reduce the frequency and severity of bushfires, as well as their long-term impacts on Australia’s people, economy, and environment.”

Dr Rob Sharp, an InSpace mission specialist from the Advanced Instrumentation Technology Centre also working on the project, said the infrared technology behind the project came from a separate astronomy instrumentation program.

“We realised it had other applications for remote sensing and earth observation.

“The infrared wavelengths we’re proposing to work out are really important for the Australian fire situation because they allow us to track the eucalypt fuel that’s one of the biggest problems here in Australia,” Sharp said.

This information will be useful for land and fire managers because they will be able to get localised, accurate information about the dryness and the fuel load for planning, response and preparedness purposes, Yemba added.

Once the satellite is up and running, InSpace plans to expand the technology by partnering with other research institutes and the private sector to address a range of problems across agriculture by remotely monitoring crop health, mining surveys for the minerals industry, and “a number of contemporary problems we have here in Australia,” Sharp said.

On Monday the NSW RFS tweeted that, for the first time in over 240 consecutive days, there were no active bush or grass fires in the state.


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