Artist’s impression of the BIRD satellite in orbitLaunch: 22 October 2001
From the ground, forest fires are often detected very late. However, they can be identified much earlier from the air or from space. DLR is testing the technologies of such an early warning system with BIRD (bi-spectral infra-red detection), a small satellite that was successfully launched from India on 22 October 2001. Weighing no more than 94 kilograms, BIRD is a 60-centimeter cube of high technology, equipped with two solar panels. It was the first satellite to demonstrate that forest fires and, more particularly, their extent and the temperature of the flames can be identified early from space.
BIRD is the first satellite in space that was specifically designed to detect and examine fires, which it identifies by their infra-red radiation. For this purpose, DLR developed and successfully validated in laboratory and airborne tests a new generation of infra-red sensors specially designed for remote fire sensing and deployment on small satellites.
DLR contributed the services of the Institute of Space Sensor Technology and Planetary Exploration (coordination, sensors), the German Space Operations Control Centre (mission control), the German Remote Sensing Data Centre (data reception and evaluation), and its own simulation and software technology. Further project participants include the Fraunhofer FIRST (on-board computer system), Jena-Optronik GmbH (star sensors), the Global Fire Monitoring Centre of Freiburg, Astro- und Feinwerktechnik GmbH (momentum wheels), and Berlin TU. The BIRD mission is based on a concept of consistent austerity: its total budget of about 15 million Euros - distributed over six years - is low compared to that of other satellite missions.
BIRD will not go into routine operation. Instead, the point of this mission is sounding out innovative satellite and sensor technologies as well as scientific methods so that these can be used routinely later on in Earth observation or in remote sensing of Earth and the planets. Together with the infra-red sensor technology installed on BIRD, new fire detection methods developed by DLR play a key role in FUEGO (Spanish for fire), a fire-detection satellite project sponsored by the European Union with a total of about five million Euros.