HOU Founder Carl Pennypacker has been working on a concept for a fire detection satellite:

2013-10-22.  Time is ripe for fire detection satellite, say Berkeley scientists. [ http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2013/10/22/time-is-ripe-for-fire-detection-satellite/. Robert Sanders, UC Berkeley News Center.]

Artist rendition of FUEGO satelliteExcerpts: BERKELEY – As firefighters emerge from another record wildfire season in the Western United States, University of California, Berkeley, scientists say it’s time to give them a 21st century tool: a fire-spotting satellite. [the Fire Urgency Estimator in Geosynchronous Orbit (FUEGO) satellite]

…Such a satellite could view the Western states almost continuously, snapping pictures of the ground every few seconds in search of hot spots that could be newly ignited wildfires. …fire expert Scott Stephens, …physicist Carl Pennypacker, remote sensing expert Maggi Kelly and their colleagues describe the satellite in an article published online Oct. 17 by the journal Remote Sensing. “With a satellite like this, we will have a good chance of seeing something from orbit before it becomes an Oakland fire,” said Pennypacker, a research associate at UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory and scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, referring to the devastating 1991 fire that destroyed more than 3,000 homes in Berkeley and Oakland. “It could pay for itself in one firefighting season.” With global warming, Stephens said, wildfires are expected to become more frequent and more extensive.

…Fire detection today is much like it was 200 years ago, Stephens said, relying primarily on spotters in fire towers or on the ground and on reports from members of the public….

…The approach is similar to what Pennypacker and colleague Saul Perlmutter used 20 years ago to search for exploding stars to study the expansion of the universe. In that case, they created an automated system to compare consecutive images of the night sky to look for new points of light that could be supernovas.

“…this is a simple system: a telephoto camera, an infrared filter and a recording device. We are just looking for something bright compared to the surroundings or changing over time,” Kelly said. “Then, we do these rapid calculations to determine if one image is different from the next.” Pennypacker and graduate student Marek K. Jakubowski developed a computer analysis technique, or algorithm, to detect these differences in space and time and to distinguish them from bright lights that might look like fires. This involves several billion calculations per second on images taken every few seconds, covering the entire West every few minutes. The new paper reports on tests of this algorithm using existing imagery from real fires, but the team hopes to get funding to test the system on a fire that is starting, such as a prescribed burn.

“…The point is, satellites like Landsat and GOES provide great information after a fire starts; they can focus and monitor a fire by looking at smoke plumes, fire spread, hot spots at the edges, etc.,” Kelly said. “FUEGO is designed for early detection of smaller fires. Right now, we lose a lot of time because fires are already big by the time we see them.”….