The 2020 wildfire season of the West Coast in the United States painted a familiar picture of the damage we saw in Australia in the 2019/2020 season. High temperatures and dry vegetation fuelled record-breaking fire spreads, causing damage to millions of hectares in forests and communities. These fire seasons have shown the new reality of what climate change looks like and how it is damaging our forests. This is why Munich-based start-up OroraTech has developed an innovative early wildfire intelligence service, using satellite data, to help prevent future fire events from ever matching the results of what we have experienced in recent years.
Wildfire detection from space
When co-founders Thomas Grübler, Björn Stoffers, Florian Mauracher and Rupert Amann came together in 2017 to work on a spin-off from the CubeSat project at the Technical University of Munich, the idea to build a successful start-up by monitoring wildfires around the world was hard to sell. With the support of a research grant and the ESA Business Incubator, they founded OroraTech in early 2018 and gained traction after the severe November forest fires in California later that year. They saw the increasing global wildfire issue and came up with the idea of developing a satellite-based wildfire platform to detect these fires faster and reduce the resulting damage and greenhouse gas emissions. Today, OroraTech has grown to be an international team of 40 people from five continents, passionate about space technology and preserving the environment.
Holistic wildfire detection and monitoring service
OroraTech has made it their mission to build a service that will keep earth sustainable and to help protect our already vulnerable forests. When it comes to wildfires, OroraTech analyses thermal-infrared images from satellites in geostationary and low-earth orbit. The algorithms are designed to globally detect forest fires early and notify users who can execute their fire management plans to tackle the fires before they become a catastrophe.
The wildfire detection and monitoring service provides earth-observation features such as risk assessment, early detection, real-time monitoring and damage analysis to show users all possible angles of a wildfire. For risk analysis, a visualization of a fire danger overlay is provided. By using data on vegetation, weather and topography, the service provides a base to encourage preventative measures to help preserve nature and biodiversity. Early detection and real-time monitoring are maintained due to the numerous satellite sources integrated into the service. Users can then afterwards analyse damage from burn scars and historical data of the wildfire hotspot detection in the area.
OroraTech is leading the industry by combining thermal-infrared data from 12 satellites, ranging from NASA, ESA, NOAA, EUMETSAT and JAXA, and visual overlays from ESA satellites for validation purposes. In the past, fires were mostly detected using airplanes, helicopters, watchtowers, camera systems and patrols on the ground. Especially in large and sparsely populated areas, these methods were sometimes inefficient and very costly to maintain. OroraTech is taking a holistic approach to create the leading wildfire management service by merging every available existing satellite data source and launching their own nanosatellites, integrating ground-based camera data, and enabling users to classify fires within the platform.
This data is quickly processed through a cloud-based architecture and is accessible either through a browser-based user friendly WebApp on every device or directly accessed via API. When a hotspot is detected, instant notifications of detection and location are sent by email, SMS or WhatsApp to the user. The service provides fire analytics for researchers to understand fire behaviours with various map forms, visualized fire charts and historical wildfire data for the past decade. This makes not only governments, commodity producers and NGOs interested in OroraTech’s data but also catastrophe insurance experts.
While researchers can analyse the global dataset on fires, first responders can focus on monitoring their customized area of interest. The latest version of the platform is being used by commercial forestry companies in Chile, Argentina and Brazil, by wildfire services ranging from Canada to Australia, NGOs in Mozambique and the Amazonian, and global insurance providers.
OroraTech aims to reduce the social and economic damage associated with forest fires, as well as a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from fires, helping to make a significant contribution to a more sustainable planet. A high number of wildfires are caused by humans due to carelessness and not following fire warnings and protocols, such as the devastating Fraser Island bushfire last October.
The core of OroraTech’s innovation lies in the development of their own CubeSats with miniaturized thermal-infrared cameras. Their satellites are designed with a much higher temporal resolution than current operating satellites. OroraTech is aiming for a constellation of about 100 nanosatellites to bring down average detection time to around 30 minutes – from several hours today. The nanosatellites are equipped with a novel camera system for precise temperature measurement and an on-orbit processing unit. Once heat sources are detected by an AI-based algorithm on board the satellite, the information is sent to the ground via an inter-satellite relay to significantly reduce the delay. This allows global forest fires to be detected at an early stage, fully automatic and around the clock. With today’s NewSpace technology, OroraTech can make the satellites contain all of the instruments within a size of just 10x10x34cm, or the size of an average shoebox, in comparison to large geostationary satellites that can be as big as a truck. CubeSats are cheap to develop in high numbers due to their small size. The commercial off-the-shelf materials used to build the hardware allow rapid development. The constellation will be built step by step over the next few years with the first satellite scheduled for launch in late 2021.
Australia wildfire preparation
OroraTech is supporting the effort to fight Australian bushfires in the upcoming season. Since 2020, Forestry Corporation of New South Wales has been using the wildfire detection and monitoring service and together with Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service signed up for 2021. ‘Seeing our platform being so widely adopted within the Australian bushfire management community is the best motivation for our team to work hard on launching those satellites!’ said OroraTech co-founder Björn Stoffers. ‘We look forward to continuing to provide our service for all of Australia and hopefully make a difference.’
On the way to the company’s vision of creating a more sustainable planet powered by information from space, more applications will be implemented step by step. OroraTech is constantly expanding existing collaborations with numerous universities, research institutes and corporate partners. To learn more about OroraTech and how you can access their wildfire detection and monitoring service, visit their website at www.ororatech.com
For more information, go to www.ororatech.com