According to NASA, its plan to build a shield in space has nothing to do with intergalactic threats: it’s protection against a danger on the ground. The space agency wants to build a global network of fire-monitoring satellites.
In light of recent events, namely, widespread wild fires and drought affecting swathes of the States, it’s not a bad idea. One of the main challenges facing fire-prone countries (look at Indonesia right now) is that blazes start in remote areas, often going undetected for hours or days, by which time, they’ve gotten really big and difficult to contain. FireSat could help.
Developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion laboratory, the proposed fire-monitoring network would consist of over 200 space-based thermal imaging sensors with the sole purpose of rapidly locating fires around the globe and alerting the appropriate authorities.
According to NASA, FireSat would be able to sniff out fires — as well as other heat sources, like explosions — that are at least 10 to 15 metres wide, within 15 minutes from the time they begin. Once it spots a fire, the satellite swarm would keep some of its eyes trained on the blaze, capturing a low-res image approximately every minute, along with the fires’ latitude and longitude coordinates. Within three minutes of detection, FireSat would be able to notify emergency responders in the area.
FireSat has been in the works since 2011, but making the concept a reality at a reasonable cost has only become possible in the past few years, thanks to advances in commercial microelectronics like CubeSats. The plan is to have a fully operational deflector shield—sorry, fire monitoring system—by June of 2018.