Friday, July 29, 2011

Space Industry Forum in Adelaide

The Space Industry Association of Australia will be holding a Space Industry forum in Adelaide on Tuesday 16 August 2011 from 5.30-7.00pm.

Space Research in Australia - the Successes and the Challenges

The Forum will be chaired by Brett Biddington, Chair of the Space Industry Association of Australia

The Panelists will include:
Bob Buxton (Flinders University) - Place and Space: Perspective in Earth Observations
Andrew Clark (Vipac) - Greenhouse Gas Monitor Project
Michael Davis (Adelta Legal) - Southern Hemisphere Summer Space Program
Jeff Kasparian (ITR, UniSA) - Space-based National Wireless Sensor Network

It will provide a good understanding of several Australian Space Research Program projects, as well the opportunity ask questions about the future direction of Space Research in Australia to a series of industry experts.

I am told that places are running out very quick, so rush over to before 12 August 2011, or email the SIAA on 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Australia's Space Needs: Bushfire Detection and Mapping

Continuing on the Australian Space Needs series of Blogs, I’ve decided to devote this blog post to fire detection and mapping from Space.

Photo: Reuters via the Sydney Morning Herald

Australia, through its hot, dry landscape is significantly pre-disposed to bushfires. In fact, South Eastern Australia is said to have some of the most bushfire prone areas in the world. Fire has been used for many thousands of years by indigenous Australians for a variety of purposes, and several of Australia’s native flora have specifically adapted to use the natural cycle of bushfires to reproduce.

During summer, it is quite normal in Australia to have multiple bushfires at any given moment across the country. However, when these bushfires threaten property and life, it becomes very important that we can detect them as quickly as possible, and have the best possible knowledge about their direction and location.

In recent years, despite improving methods of fire detection, fire mapping and fire fighting, several major Australian bushfires have killed many people and caused enormous economic damage. The black Saturday bushfires in 2009 in Victoria killed 173 people, and destroyed over 2000 houses. In 2005, 9 people were killed in a bushfire on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia, and in 2003, major bushfires encroached on Australia’s capital Canberra killing 4 people and destroying around 500 homes. Going right back to 1983, many Australian’s would remember the Ash Wednesday fires that killed 75 people across South Australia and Victoria.

Bushfires are a significant Australian issue and one that benefits from the application of Space Technologies.

Prior to 2003, fire services from Around Australia relied on “eye-witness” reports from people in vehicles, fire towers, spotter planes and helicopters to provide fire detection and mapping. With 7.6 Million square kilometres of surface to cover, this system was not perfect to say the least. Particularly when assets such as spotter planes and helicopters are often grounded in heavy smoke or high winds, exactly when the fire detection and mapping need is at its highest.

Back in 2001-02 following bushfires in NSW and ACT, the Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation (DIGO) together with CSIRO and Geoscience Australia got together to develop and implement a system to detect and monitor bushfires using satellite data. The new system was called Sentinel Hotspots.

The Sentinel Hotspots system uses data from the NASA Earth Observation Satellites Terra and Aqua with their Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument to extract the current thermal imagery across Australia allowing detection and mapping of Bushfires. It then overlays this bushfire location data on a detailed map of Australia, and provides all of this information over an easy to use internet interface.

A Screenshot from the Sentinel fire mapping website 

The MODIS instrument on the Terra and Aqua satellites have a swath width of 2330km, and pass over Australia at least once per day, reporting fires within one hour of detection. The system has an accuracy of around 1.5km, and can update up to four times per day, depending on satellite passes.

The data from these satellites is downlinked to Geoscience Australia at Alice Springs, and special algorithms are used to produce the thermal images. Areas with high temperature are then identified, and fed into a spatial database which can be accessed via an internet interface, highlighting the location of each fire and other information about the fires progress.

The Sentinel Hotspots system was launched in January 15 2003, juts three days before major bushfires hit Canberra. Whilst the Sentinel Hotspots system was only intended to be a ‘pilot’ website, firefighters, media and the general public all swamped the website to check the latest information about the fires.

On the 19th of January 2003, just 4 days after the website launched, it recorded over 1.6 million hits – with CSIRO working 24 hours a day to make sure the system kept running in an operational mode. In total, the Sentinel website received 14.1 million hits in January 2003 and 3.4 million in February 2003, with a surprising 35% of traffic on the peak day coming from overseas.

The ‘pilot’ system was made into a permanent operational system in 2005, and is now hosted by Geoscience Australia here. It is also one of many different global fire detection and mapping systems such as the NASA MODIS global firemap series.

A Week of Fire locations around the World from the MODIS firemap website

The Sentinel Hotspots systems is a wonderful example of using satellite data to save people's lives, save people’s houses, and improve our ability to control major bushfires, avoiding major economic damage. Providing accurate detection and mapping of fires in near-real time, provides fire authorities with a strong management tool allowing them to best deploy resources and manage disaster response more efficiently and effectively.

On the space side, Australia is still currently reliant on NASA’s satellites to provide us with this critical information. As far as I am aware, Australia has not contributed to the design, development, launch or operation of these satellites – with the exception of providing a data download facility which allows us to also use the data free of charge.

In future, fire detection and mapping from space will become more effective in supporting operational fire management and fire fighting in real time, with increased resolution as well as a reduced re-visit time – allowing a reduction in the time between when a fire starts, and when it is reported to fire authorities. This very early reporting can allow fire-fighters to get a fire under control, before turning into a major threat to communities.

It is also an application where it would make sense for Australia to take on a leading role in the international community – whilst delivering real and immediate benefits to Australians at home. Perhaps fire detection and mapping something the upcoming Australian Space Policy will consider.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Climate R3 about to kick-off in Sydney

Image Credit: Australian Space Policy Unit

From July 18-20 at the Menzies hotel in Sydney, Australia will host the Climate Regional Readiness Review or “Climate R3” as it is known. The Climate R3 initiative was born out of an Australian proposal at the Asia-Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum (APRSAF) -17 that was held in Melbourne in November 2010 that was aimed at undertaking a Regional Readiness Review for Key Climate Missions.

Overall, the aim of the review is to determine the ability of APRSAF countries and their relevant institutions to benefit from space derived data and information that will be derived from climate related earth observation satellites that will be launched in the next few years.

The first topics chosen for this review include:
  • Precipitation Information
  • Soil Moisture
  • Land Use / Mapping

All three of these are definitely high priority areas for Australia in light of the recent droughts and floods, and have been determined to be high priority areas to the APRSAF governments. Future Climate R3 may broaden their focus to other APRSAF priority areas.

The review plans to look at the end-to-end system of data and information flow, from space-based acquisition, right through to the dissemination and exploitation of this data to support each nations needs. It will include a review of the satellite coverage against each area; local reception facilities; data storage and processing together with in-country know how; product development needs and dissemination capabilities.

Climate R3 will also undertake a review of the institutional arrangements in APRSAF countries, including identification of end-user groups.

I was also lucky enough to speak with Mr Stephen Ward and Mr George Dyke, who are two of the key figures driving the success of the Climate R3. I posed them the following questions:

SpaceBoomerang: What benefits of Climate R3 do you see for Australia?

Australia wishes to see well-informed climate policy in the Asia-Pacific region for our mutual benefit, and securing access to key space data streams and ensuring capacity for their exploitation is an important part of supporting that policy. By playing a coordinating role in brokering the international partnerships and data flows at the heart of Climate R3, Australia will be building on its existing international space linkages, creating new linkages, and ultimately helping to ensure future access to data. We have already seen those linkages in action, with support to the development of the workshop being provided by key partners like JAXA (Japan), USGS and NASA (USA), and ESA (Europe).

SpaceBoomerang: How do you think initiatives like Climate R3 support developing nations in the region?

The Asia-Pacific, unlike USA and Europe, has no comprehensive region-wide process for the systematic assessment of our climate information requirements, in particular for the planning and implementation of the supporting satellite observation systems to satisfy these requirements. Being home to 60% of the world’s population, the region deserves, and has a pressing need for such a capacity and process especially as it is particularly vulnerable to many of the expected impacts of climate change processes. Initiatives like Climate R3 create a forum where countries in the Asia-Pacific with expertise and space capabilities can share expertise, information and support capacity building in nations who do not. While still a pilot initiative, participants in the Climate R3 workshop will cover a wide range of Asia-Pacific countries including Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, USA, and Australia, as well as Europe.

SpaceBoomerang: This is one of the first international Australian driven space initiatives in many years. Do you think this is the start of a broader plan for Australia to become actively involved in international space activities again?

The pilot Climate R3 workshop is being coordinated by the Space Policy Unit (SPU) within the Australian Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (DIISR). The SPU has been given a mandate to bring forward a National space policy for consideration by Government. Part of this mandate is to consider how Australia uses space to tackle climate change, weather forecasting, natural resource management, forestry and agriculture, disaster management, and national security. The focus of the Climate R3  workshop is on ensuring access to key climate-related data streams, and so it fits well within this mandate.

Broader Australian engagement in international space activities would also take place within this mandate, and therefore would in all likelihood be linked to the areas of national interest identified. Climate R3  is focused on Earth observation, but other areas of interest in the future may include other space services like position, navigation and timing, and satellite communications and broadband; support to space science and research and applications development; development of Australia’s domestic space industries; and, safeguarding Australia’s national security.

SpaceBoomerang: Climate R3 is one of a growing number of initiatives coming from the APRSAF. Where do you see the future of the APRSAF cooperation, and what role do you see Australia playing in its future?

APRSAF includes broad membership from across Asia, and past activities have been built substantively on Japan’s long heritage in space. As a number of Asian countries increase the sophistication of their space activities, developing both space-based hardware and applications for the benefit of their societies, more opportunities to share those benefits will naturally emerge through forums like APRSAF. The diversity of Asian space programs means that those opportunities will likely emerge across the full range of space activities, with nations engaging in cooperation when those opportunities align with their national interests.

Australia has been engaged in APRSAF for some time now, having hosted the 11th (2004) and 17th (2010) APRSAF meetings. As Australia continues to develop its Space Policy, identifying areas of national interest, you would expect to see further opportunities for collaboration with APRSAF countries emerge. Australia’s good relations with traditional space powers like Japan, the USA, and Europe also position it well to play a coordination role within the Asia-Pacific.

Climate R3  is being led by Australia through the Space Policy Unit, who is collaborating with Geoscience Australia, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, CSIRO and other Australian Government departments.

ESA, NASA, USGS and JAXA are also providing support for the initiative, with speakers currently planned from Australia, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, Europe and the United States of America.

For more information, head to the information page on over here.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Australian Childrens Space Book Released

Australian Children's author Tristan Bancks has released his latest latest book titled "Galactic Adventures: First Kids in Space".

 (Image Credit: Tristan Bancks)

The book is about Australian boy Dash Campbell whose only dream is to go to space. He is lucky enough to get that opportunity when the billionaire owner of a civilian space travel company puts out a call to find the first five kids in space.

Whilst only being released this week, the book is getting great reviews so far. Well done Tristan for inspiring the next generation of Australian's who will take us to the stars!

For more information on the book, head here.