As a wildfire delayed the launch of one DigitalGlobe satellite, another of the company’s spacecraft kept an eye on the flames that threatened the launch site.
A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 was scheduled to launch WorldView-4 Sept. 18 from Vandenberg Air Force Base after a two-day delay caused by a technical problem. However, ULA scrubbed the launch several hours in advance after a fire spread onto the California base, postponing while firefighters tackled the blaze.
As WorldView-4 waited out the fire, sealed inside the pad’s vertical integration building, WorldView-3 satellite took daily images of the fire, helping firefighters to in their efforts to contain the sprawling blaze. “These super-spectral images were taken with the satellite’s shortwave infrared (SWIR) sensor, which is uniquely able to pierce through smoke to provide high-fidelity identification of hot spots without the risk of having to fly a plane over an active fire,” DigitalGlobe founder Walter Scott said in a Sept. 23 statement.
One image showed the fire Sept. 18, when it came within 2.5 kilometers of the Atlas pad. A second image, taken four days later, showed the progress firefighters made in containing the blaze and keeping it away from active launch pads. As of Sept. 23, the fire was 90 percent contained after burning about 12,500 acres.
ULA and DigitalGlobe said they were considering early October. launch dates for WorldView-4
The wildfire gave DigitalGlobe an opportunity to demonstrate the capabilities, but also the policy limitations, of commercial infrared images. “SWIR imagery is a valuable tool for combating wildfires, classifying materials in urban environments and detecting minerals on earth’s surface,” Scott said. “However, U.S. regulatory reform is needed to fully leverage this capability, as the SWIR imagery we are permitted to distribute today contains only 25 percent of the information that is captured by the satellite.”