Cal Poly Pomona students launch wildfire detection satellite in NASA program – San Bernardino Sun

2022-07-01 19:20:36 By : Mr. kevin fan

Get the latest news delivered daily!

Get the latest news delivered daily!

With the support of NASA, a group of Cal Poly Pomona students are set to launch a miniature satellite designed to scan and identify wildfires from miles away.

Named Bronco Ember, the miniature satellite can autonomously detect, track and log coordinates and send those to fire agencies before a wildfire can spread and burn thousands of acres.

The university’s Bronco Space club is one of three groups and the only undergraduate program selected to advance in the inaugural NASA TechLeap Challenge, earning $500,000 over the course of the year-long competition.

Using an infrared camera, students developed a CubeSat, a miniature satellite about half the size of a loaf of bread, and rigged a special setup to train artificial intelligence to alert if something is burning from afar.

The 3-pound satellite includes a camera and other equipment fit into a small container the size of “a slim shoe box,” according to a Cal Poly Pomona news release.

After a weather delay this week, Bronco Ember is scheduled to launch in Sioux Falls, South Dakota the week of July 4 on a high altitude balloon rising about 18.5 miles above Earth for about eight hours. NASA is flying out team members for the launch next week.

After the launch, the team will drive to different locations and light small fires, awaiting their satellite to send coordinates for any flames it discovers, according to the university.

The project is the culmination of months of long nights, navigating regular coursework and overcoming logistical roadblocks, said Cal Poly Pomona graduate Cristian Rodriguez, 25.

“This was really just an incredible learning experience for myself, for everybody,” Rodriguez, the project’s principal investigator, said this week by phone. “They (NASA) believed in us, we believed in ourselves and now we’re looking to fly next week.”

It all began last summer when the student group pitched its idea to NASA as a way to tackle a real-world issue affecting where they live — the increase in wildfires throughout Southern California.

“We asked ourselves ‘what would be cool to do?’ and we were like, ‘we’re in Southern California and there are a lot of wildfires, so maybe we should build a house fire detection device,” Rodriguez said, recounting conversations with team members. “That’s when a lightbulb lit up.”

After advancing in the competition and winning an initial $200,000 in October, the group had just 10 months to showcase and finish its satellite for NASA.

Rodriguez, who was living in Northern California, moved to Pomona to work on the satellite with other teammates. Rodriguez said 70% of classes were in-person at this time, so some students were still working from home, making it a challenge to navigate everyone’s schedules.

During a test run of Bronco Ember, the team lit a controlled fire on campus and camped up on a hill in Diamond Bar. There, the group saw a glowing figure on their camera resembling the fire located a mile away.

“After that, we knew how special this project could be and what it would mean to have this all come together,” said senior Zachary Gaines, 21, who is the project lead.

“Everyone knows someone directly impacted by fires, so by giving students the chance to affect their community, the team rallied around this,” he continued.

For Rodriguez, he hopes the project’s use of small satellite technology can help inspire other projects and create more real world solutions like identifying wildfires.

“We hope it’s just the start of something bigger,” Rodriguez said. “The sky really is the limit.”

Members of the Bronco Ember team including Rodriguez and Gaines, are as follows:

Get the latest news delivered daily!

We invite you to use our commenting platform to engage in insightful conversations about issues in our community. We reserve the right at all times to remove any information or materials that are unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable to us, and to disclose any information necessary to satisfy the law, regulation, or government request. We might permanently block any user who abuses these conditions.