Spire’s ExactEarth to Support WildFireSat Mission

File photo: How we monitor wildfires is about to change. Credit: Canadian Space Agency.

Spire Global announced that their subsidiary ExactEarth, based in Cambridge, Ontario, has been awarded a contract by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) to “deliver preparatory work for implementation phases of a wildfire monitoring satellite” for the delayed WildFireSat mission.

The concept that became the WildFireSat mission was first proposed in 2012 by the Canadian Wildland Fire Monitoring System. In early 2019 the CSA issued a Phase A for the mission that included a capped cost of $31 million. The WildFireSat mission will now cost at least $170 million and won’t launch until 2029 with the design and implementation “anticipated to commence in spring 2024.” In 2021 it was expected that the WildFireSat mission would be operational in 2026.

WildFireSat’s monitoring will support wildfire management, provide more precise information on smoke and air quality, and more accurately measure carbon emissions by wildfires. According to the Canadian Space Agency’s (CSA) WildFireSat site, it will “consist of satellites equipped with infrared sensors that will measure the energy emitted by wildfires. This energy is referred to as Fire Radiative Power (FRP)… [and] with FRP information, essential characteristics of wildfires such as fire intensity and rate of spread can be derived.”  The project is a collaboration between the CSA, Natural Resources Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada 

In announcing the contract, Spire also said it would be partnering with German based Ororatech who have specialized experience in wildfire measurements. According to Spire’s release, they “created the first global wildfire intelligence service for commercial and institutional customers,” launching payloads consisting of a thermal-infrared camera and data processing units as part of 6U Spire satellite in 2021. Spire’s release said that they were “able to help OroraTech validate their initial concept quickly and cost-effectively and demonstrate its functionality in the orbital environment”, and that OroraTech had “advance[d] towards its plan to provide data insights to its customers every 30 minutes and within 3 minutes from detection at any place on Earth.” 

ExactEarth Ltd. was acquired by Spire in 2021. They have been focused primarily on providing Satellite-AIS services, particularly tracking maritime movement, with “the world’s largest database of vessel movements” according to previous SpaceQ coverage.  While ship-tracking might not be relevant to tracking wildfires from space, ExactEarth will be bringing experience in working with Canadian institutional customers, in addition to representing Spire in the arrangement.  

The hope with WildFireSat is that the monitoring will help manage a central challenge in Canadian firefighting: that Canada is “home to some of the largest and most intense wildfires in the world.” Nearly 7,500 wildfires burn over 2.5 million hectares of forest every year, and the CSA said it is projected to double by 2050 due to our changing climate. The CSA said that the project will “reduce wildfire losses through more precise wildfire monitoring, improving our ability to make informed decisions about defending communities and avoiding unnecessary evacuations”, allowing Canada to “better protect our resources, infrastructure, and environment.” They also said that the information will be publicly available. 

Spire’s release said that “global wildfire losses from 2018-2022 totalled $69 billion, according to Munich Re.” Spire pointed to the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire as the most expensive natural disaster in Canadian history” at a cost of $9 billion, and said that the satellite will “benefit the country’s forestry industry, wildfire managers, emergency services and Canadian communities, all of which are frequently impacted by wildfires.” 

In OroraTech’s release, Tyler Smith, Account Executive of OroraTech Ltd. in Canada, said that they “are excited to partner with the CSA on their WildfireSat solution” and that it will “provide Canadian wildfire managers with a fast and complete solution for wildfire detection & situational awareness.”  Dr. Axel Roenneke, Chief Commercial Officer of OroraTech, said that “Canada is the first country investing in a dedicated solution for Wildfire monitoring from Space…with a commercial service approach, our Canadian consortium can deliver actionable intelligence to the Canadian community fast.”

With the wildfire season already started, including in Alberta where where wildfires “have burned 410,000 hectares — about double the average area burned in an entire season,” it seems the urgency to get the WildFireSat mission online is there. It also raises the question, why does it takes 17 years to go from concept to being active? And why will it take another six years?

With reporting by Marc Boucher.

About Craig Bamford

Craig started writing for SpaceQ in 2017 as their space culture reporter, shifting to Canadian business and startup reporting in 2019. He is a member of the Canadian Association of Journalists, and has a Master's Degree in International Security from the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. He lives in Toronto.

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