The New ‘Hot Spot’ for Scouring Space Data

SBIRS GEO Flight 3

Whether predicting weather patterns or helping soldiers on the battlefield, tracking ‘hot spots’ of infrared light using remote sensing data can be hugely beneficial.

In fact, since the dawn of the space era, dozens of satellites have been launched miles above the Earth to detect and transmit this data using special instruments and sensors.

Now, a new Air Force remote sensing data laboratory is opening its doors for data scientists to research and use the findings of powerful infrared data sources, including the Space Based Infrared System, or SBIRS. While SBIRS’ primary mission is strategic missile warning, its satellites provide vast amounts of data that can be applied to innovative research projects focused on remote sensing of the Earth’s surface.

“Satellites like SBIRS are orbiting the Earth using immensely powerful overhead sensors. The most important thing we can do is get that data off of the sensors and into the hands of the troops, analysts and first responders who need it most,” said David Sheridan, vice president of Lockheed Martin’s Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) systems mission area.

Improving Situational Awareness

The team’s goal for the collaboration between government, industry and academia is to create opportunities to innovate and understand how the data from satellites can be better applied on and off the battlefield.

“We envision this data to be useful in a number of ways—from researching how we can connect a few different data sources, like weather data and infrared data to support tactical military missions, to providing early warning of natural disaster events like forest fires,” Sheridan said.

In the past year, the U.S. Air Force has seen a growing demand from the military, intelligence and civil communities, as well as academia, for remote sensing capabilities. For areas like battlespace awareness, intelligence and 24/7 tactical alerts, promising solutions developed in the lab will be considered for operational applications at the SBIRS Mission Control Station, Overhead Persistent Infrared Battlespace Awareness Center at Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado, and within the intelligence community.

“In an effort to develop, test and transition new or enhanced capabilities, the data experimentation lab will provide an opportunity for users, data consumers and third-party developers to access these sensor feeds—providing an open framework architecture to host new tools, algorithms and processing solutions,” said Lt. Colonel Ross Johnston, U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center.

Impacting Society and Education

Along with government and industry teams, academic organizations like the University of Colorado are hoping to use the data provided by the lab to support academic research in areas like remote sensing of the Earth’s surface, which includes monitoring the potential for forest fires and informing critical decisions during active fires.

“The benefit of having public-private partnerships is that we can bring together different stakeholders, in addition to doing research, and understand how we can use data from space assets to solve societal issues,” said Scott Palo, associate dean for research at the University of Colorado’s College of Engineering and Applied Science.

And that’s not all. This new ‘hot spot’ will also serve as a source of inspiration for others who are interested in using remote sensing data to address the big challenges we face here on Earth.   

“Students, as well as small and medium-sized businesses, can connect with industry and government and develop a broader vision that we can all build upon,” Palo said.