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Managing risk from space

By Peter Kinne, Gilmour Space

The current extreme fire conditions in Australia has sharpened our industry focus on what more could be done in the prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery phases of emergency management.

Specifically, how can our emerging Australian Space Industry respond and scale efficiently and effectively during such natural disaster scenarios?

End users are not always cognisant of where the data comes from, but space assets have been harnessed in the past for emergency situations. 

During the Sampson Flat fires in 2015, for example, high-resolution imagery was made available to a public crowd-sourcing platform, which resulted in more accurate and complete analyses and results within 24 hours, days faster than traditional methodologies. The information was then distributed through more than 25 specialised mobile and desktop applications across government response departments and agencies.

The same approach was applied later in the 2015 Nepal earthquake, which killed 9,000 people and injured 22,000 more. The resulting collections and mapping formed the basis of the rescue and recovery program.

Source: WorldView 3, Maxar Technologies

Today, space assets are again being leveraged across multiple applications to help emergency fire services in Australia.

Among others, geostationary weather satellites are providing short and medium-term risk modelling to assess current and future fire risk; commercial satellites like WorldView 3 are providing thermal and short-wave infrared (SWIR) images that can 'see' through the smoke to more safely locate and map the fires (see picture); communication satellites like Sky Muster are providing supplementary internet and phone services; and GPS satellites are helping to tie it all together. 

Whilst attention should rightly be focused on managing the current situation, there are clearly many opportunities for our growing Australian Space Industry to provide value-added products or services to support a holistic national emergency management strategy. 

Some considerations for the future:

  • How to better coordinate and leverage existing space assets through commercial ground stations to provide (at the least) basic real-time data access and analytics.

  • Identifying, localising and improving analytics and modelling for use - e.g. emergency fire response.

  • Launching and managing our own satellites, designed to meet Australia's specific needs - e.g. with infrared to thermal bands for fire detection, and the right frequency of coverage over Australia.

  • Developing constellations of satellites that include night collections, which is currently not within the commercial capabilities of available high-resolution commercial SWIR and thermal satellites.

  • Exporting our expertise and capability to Canada, US and European emergency responders during their fire seasons.

With the launch of Space 2.0, more and more space-sourced data will become accessible and affordable to the 'masses'. This opens the door for individuals, researchers, companies and governments to harness new space data and technologies for solving problems on Earth, including perhaps the development and supply of specialised space assets and analytical services for managing fire risk from space.


The author, Peter Kinne, is head of sales at Gilmour Space Technologies. He is also a senior board member and a committee member representing the space, robotics, and spatial industries.

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