US: NASA’s space technology used on the Mars Rover is helping California firefighters map the movement of blazes in real time and quickly dispatch ground crews where they are needed most. It is part of a NASA information-sharing mission with firefighting agencies. Last month, NASA and Cal Fire, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, signed a five-year agreement to test and develop advanced remote-sensing technology.
“It can tell us where the most heat is being generated (in a wildfire), if there are any hot spots that haven’t been detected and allow us to send crews in that direction in very short order,” said Kevin Guerrero, Cal Fire’s deputy chief for operations support in Sacramento.
Quick action grows more important in Southern California, where catastrophic wildfires have become commonplace in recent years.
Under the NASA programme, information is gathered by sophisticated thermal-imaging sensors affixed to the wing of a drone and, most recently, inside manned aircraft. “The sensors are more accurate than current versions, which were developed for military use and can’t handle the high temperatures that come with fires,” said Vince Ambrosia, the NASA scientist who developed the technology.
NASA’s drone and the piloted B200 King Air are operated at the Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base near the town of Mojave.
The sensors, which remain accurate up to 1,472 degrees, help map blazes, determine their speed and gauge burn severity after fires, among other uses.
The information is converted into images by computers on the ground or in the plane and transmitted via satellite to fire managers within 10 minutes. A visual translation of the information is made on Google Earth or Google Maps, “so someone on the ground can look at the data in near real time in three dimensions,” Ambrosia said.
The visualisation technology is a spinoff of the seven-year-old Mars exploration that allowed scientists on the ground to manipulate the Rover’s instruments, he said.