Fighting climate change from outer space
Munich-based start-up OroraTech is developing miniature satellites and high-resolution cameras to provide thermal images of the entire surface of the Earth. Refreshing every 30 minutes, the data will not only allow a faster response to forest fires; it can also help tackle the climate crisis.
Forest fires and climate change: a fatal interaction
Parched soils, high air temperatures and wind increase the risk of fires and pose a threat to humans, animals and entire ecosystems. Increasingly, northern regions such as Central and Northern Europe are affected. Even in the Arctic, so-called "zombie fires" have been observed recently, smouldering underground in carbon-rich peat soils for weeks and months.
It is true that forest fires are an integral part of many ecosystems – and initially not harmful to the climate due to regrowing vegetation. However, when forests burn more frequently and over larger areas, as has been the case in recent years, the emissions released in the process in turn lead to a rise in temperatures.
The economic impact is also enormous: in 2019 to 2021 alone, global losses amounted to 24 billion US dollars, as calculated by the insurer Munich Re. As if that were not enough, forest fires are increasingly accelerating climate change – a vicious circle.
Early detection with new technologies
In order to monitor large, sometimes remote areas quickly and reliably, affected regions, municipalities, but also private companies and forestry operations are increasingly turning to satellite monitoring. There are currently 8000 satellites in space, and about 170 more are added every month – but they fulfil very different tasks and are not designed solely to detect forest fires or measure temperatures.
The satellites of ESA (European Space Agency) and NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), for example, provide up-to-date data twice a day – that is too rare when it comes to a global early warning system.
From 2026: Up-to-date thermal images of the Earth every 30 minutes
The goal of the Munich-based space start-up OroraTech is to provide up-to-date thermal (or heat?) data on the entire surface of the Earth every 30 minutes using its own satellite cameras. To this end, around 100 miniature satellites with cameras are to be sent into space by 2026.
"We provide data quickly and our cameras are small and compact – these are the big advantages of our system," explains Fabia Höhne Tarragona from OroraTech. Together with a team of engineers, they have spent two years tinkering with a high-resolution camera that is the size of a shoe box and does not require any heavy cooling systems. Initial tests have proven that it works – the camera is already in use on satellites.
Our customers include private forestry companies, NGOs in Africa, national parks in Australia and companies in the timber industry in South America.
OroraTech can not only detect forest fires with the cameras. "Combining our camera images with other data, such as wind speeds and precipitation amounts, we can also provide important information for agriculture or municipalities that are increasingly suffering from heat waves.
New Space: the rise of commercial space services
The "New Space" sector is on the rise: between 2012 and 2021, annual investments in this area increased from 300 million US dollars annually to 10 billion US dollars. New Space refers to private space initiatives in which visionary entrepreneurs drive developments. For a long time, the sector was exclusively in state hands – because of the immense costs. In the recent years and though new technical developments, these costs have been significantly reduced, making it possible for universities or smaller start-ups to launch space missions.
"Most companies will use data and services from space technologies in the future," Gauk is certain. In the case of OroraTech, they will help to better classify the effects of climate change and natural phenomena. And thus strengthen the resilience of patient Earth.
Forest fires: gloomy outlook until 2100
90 percent of fires are man-made – carelessly discarded cigarettes, broken glass and, unfortunately, arson – and are encouraged by settlements that extend into endangered areas. This must be changed, for example through education and more considerate building. Nevertheless, experts from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) assume that forest fires could increase by up to 50 percent by the end of the century. And not only in the regions currently particularly affected, such as the west of the USA, northern Siberia, central India or eastern Australia.
OroraTech is the leading thermal-infrared data intelligence company based in Germany, providing actionable insights for sustainable enterprises. With the launch of the first thermal-infrared camera on a nanosatellite in early 2022, OroraTech kicked off its constellation of 100 cameras to continuously monitor the earth's temperature and provide data-based trends.
Its leading Wildfire Intelligence Solution is used by customers across six continents, from commercial enterprises to governmental organizations. The company was founded in 2018 with a vision to use thermal intelligence for a sustainable earth.
… develops digital formats in the Deutsche Bank communications team. She is fascinated by what is already technically possible to tackle climate change and what creative entrepreneurial ideas there are – and hopes that they will get enough support to make the big breakthrough.
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