Optus and ANU to throw satellites, drones, and robotics at Australian bushfires

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The Australian bushfires wreaked havoc. A new study shows that anthropogenic climate change made things worse.


Image: World Weather Attribution

The Australian National University (ANU) and Optus announced on Thursday the pair would attempt to develop a national system to detect and extinguish fires using a mixture of satellites, drones, and robotics.

The first step of the program, which is due to run until 2024, will be to create an “autonomous ground-based and aerial fire detection system”.

It will begin with the trial of long-range infra-red sensor cameras placed on towers in fire-prone areas in the ACT, which will allow the ACT Rural Fire Service (RFS) to monitor and identify bushfires.

The long-term goal, though, is to put out fires using drones.

“We hope to develop a system that can locate a fire within the first few minutes of ignition and extinguish it soon afterwards,” ANU vice-chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt

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SpaceX provides Starlink satellites to help Washington state towns get online after wildfires

Washington state emergency officials are using SpaceX satellites to provide internet access in Malden, Wash., after wildfires took out most of the small town in Eastern Washington. (Washington Emergency Management Division Photo)

SpaceX is lending a helping hand to Washington state towns ravaged by recent wildfires.

The Washington Emergency Management Division is using the company’s Starlink satellites to provide public WiFi access in Malden, Wash., where a wildfire destroyed 80% of the small town earlier this month. The satellites are also being used in Western Washington near Bonney Lake, Wash. SpaceX is providing the service for free.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk responded to the tweet above:

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The US Army wants to modify SpaceX’s Starlink satellites for unjammable navigation

SpaceX has already launched more than 700 Starlink satellites, with thousands more due to come online in the years ahead. Their prime mission is to provide high-speed internet virtually worldwide, including to many remote locations that have lacked reliable service to date.

Now, research funded by the US Army has concluded that the growing mega-constellation could have a secondary purpose: by doubling as a low-cost, highly accurate and almost unjammable alternative to GPS. The new method would use existing Starlink satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to provide near-global navigation services. 

In a non-peer reviewed paper, Todd Humphreys and Peter Iannucci at the Radionavigation Laboratory at The University of Texas at Austin claim to have devised a system that uses the same satellites, piggybacking on traditional GPS signals, to deliver location precision up to ten times as good as GPS, and much less prone to interference. 

Weak signals

The Global

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Secretive Chinese launch sends two remote sensing satellites into orbit

HELSINKI — China added to its Earth observation capabilities with the clandestine launch of two satellites from Taiyuan late Saturday.

The unexpected launch of a Long March 4B rocket carrying satellites HJ-2A (Huanjing-2A) and HJ-2B took place at 11:23 p.m. Eastern Saturday. While Chinese launches are rarely publicly announced ahead of time, the publishing of airspace closures usually provides a few days of notice. No notices were apparently issued ahead of the launch.

The first indication of the activity came in the form of a declaration of launch success from China’s state-owned space contractor. The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC) announced mission success (Chinese) within an hour of liftoff.

The satellites were later cataloged in a 600 by 654-kilometer orbits inclined by 98 degrees. The rocket third stage was in a 428 by 656-kilometer orbit.

The medium-resolution environment HJ-2A and HJ-2B monitoring satellites are equipped with

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Faint orbital debris that threatens satellites not being monitored closely enough, warn astronomers — ScienceDaily

University of Warwick astronomers are warning that orbital debris posing a threat to operational satellites is not being monitored closely enough, as they publish a new survey finding that over 75% of the orbital debris they detected could not be matched to known objects in public satellite catalogues.

The astronomers are calling for more regular deep surveys of orbital debris at high altitudes to help characterise the resident objects and better determine the risks posed to the active satellites that we rely on for essential services, including communications, weather monitoring and navigation.

The research forms part of DebrisWatch, an ongoing collaboration between the University of Warwick and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (UK) aiming to provide a fresh take on surveys of the geosynchronous region that have been conducted in the past. The results are reported in the journal Advances in Space Research. The research was part-funded by the

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U.S. military to test Isotropic Systems antennas with SES satellites

SAN FRANCISCO – The U.S. Army plans to evaluate the performance of Isotropic Systems optical beam-forming antennas for sending communications through the SES satellites in geostationary and medium Earth orbit, under a contract of undisclosed value announced Sept. 24.

The contract was awarded by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory to SES Government Solutions of Reston, Virginia, a subsidiary of Luxembourg-based satellite fleet operator SES, and to Isotropic Systems, a firm based in Reading, United Kingdom, with a U.S. business unit in Reston, Virginia.

The U.S. Army evaluation is the first contract award for Isotropic Systems in its work with SES Government Solutions. The two companies are working together to develop communications terminals to link government and commercial customers with SES O3b satellites and SES’s next-generation O3b mPower constellation.

For communicating on the move, the Army relies primarily on gimballed parabolic antennas that cannot track satellites in low and medium

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BlackSky will add night vision to Earth-watching satellites

Satellite factory
One of BlackSky’s Global satellites sits on a stand that’s visible at the center of this view of the LeoStella satellite factory floor in Tukwila, Wash. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

BlackSky’s satellites are already producing frequently updated, high-resolution views of planet Earth — but now the company says its next-generation spacecraft will kick things up a notch.

There’ll even be night vision.

BlackSky, a subsidiary of Spaceflight Industries with offices in Seattle and Herndon, Va., announced today that its Gen-3 Global satellites will provide pictures with 50-centimeter spatial resolution, as well as short-wave infrared sensor readings.

That level of resolution for visual imagery will be twice as sharp as the current Gen-2 satellites’ 1-meter resolution. And the short-wave infrared imaging system should be able to deliver night-vision views as well as images of the ground that cut through obscuring smoke and haze.

BlackSky CEO Brian O’Toole told GeekWire that

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Microsoft connects satellites to its cloud in new service, Azure Orbital

Sept. 22 (UPI) — Microsoft on Tuesday launched Azure Orbital, a new service that connects satellites to its cloud to process data from space.

Data satellite operators retrieve from space to observe Earth is key in addressing global challenges like climate change and furthering scientific innovation, Azure Networking Principal Program Manager Yves Pitsch said in a blog post Tuesday.

The new ground station service, Azure Orbital, connects satellite operators directly to the Azure cloud computing network to communicate with their satellites and process and store data from them.

Microsoft announced at its virtual Ignite conference Tuesday that Azure Orbital will begin in a “private preview” to select Microsoft customers.

“With Azure Orbital, we’re taking our infrastructure to space, enabling anyone to access satellite data and capabilities from Azure,” Microsoft CEO Satyr Nadella said during the Microsoft Ignite 2020 conference.

Amazon captured 45% of the cloud-computing market in 2019, when Microsoft

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