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Tech used in space to help detect fires in Australia

Research into discovering exploding stars has evolved into a bushfire detection and management technology that is now in Australia.

Fireball.International, a start-up company based in Peregian Beach, is using satellites and sensors on towers to detect fires when they are still very small and much easier to extinguish.

USQ Astrophysicist Professor Brad Carter said the technology could allow mapping of fires with unmatched speed and accuracy.

“Fireball’s early fire detection system is fusing satellite images with ground-based sensor detections for near-immediate discovery and management of fires allowing firefighters to gain control quickly with early and more aggressive attacks,” he said.

The Fireball system is already successfully operating in California with contracts from the State of California and electrical utility companies.

Fireball co-founder and USQ Adjunct Research Fellow Christopher Tylor said the satellite used by Fireball detected the Kincade fire in California 66 seconds after a falling power line ignited in October last year.

The tower sensors confirmed the alarm within three minutes, despite the fact that it was night and the fire was in a canyon, and not directly visible to the sensor,” he said.

“The explosive fire growth was so clear from the data that evacuation of a town 10 km away was ordered 20 minutes after ignition. Fire apparatus had not yet worked their way into the fire.”

Fireball evolved from research into exploding stars conducted at the Siding Spring Observatory in Australia by Breakthrough Prize winner and USQ Adjunct Professor Carl Pennypacker.

Professor Pennypacker said the foundations of this fire-tracking technology began in space research.

“It started with a supernova search at the Anglo Australian Telescope, and we later evolved our search to include other telescopes,” he said.

“But the challenge of finding smoke is not an easy one, and the same types of skills and passion we employed searching for bright spots in galaxies a billion light years across the Universe are very useful in finding 20 miles across the valley.

“So there are some Australian roots here in our work already, and it is lovely to have them come back to their home and help out Australia a bit.”

Collaborating parties include University of Southern Queensland, ALERT Wildfire System at the University of Nevada at Reno, the University of California at San Diego (UC San Diego), and the University of California Berkeley (UC Berkeley).

Fireball’s technology is planned to be paired with a dedicated satellite dubbed FUEGO: Fire Urgency Estimator in Geosynchronous Orbit which could potentially provide early warning of fires for an entire continent.

“We have a working system, but the addition of a satellite designed specifically for early detection is a world-changing development,” Professor Carter said

“Fireball’s technology is an example of how maintaining durable support for fundamental scientific research and international collaboration enables universities to stimulate industry.”

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two men standing in the bush
USQ Astrophysicist Professor Brad Carter said the technology could allow mapping of fires with unmatched speed and accuracy.