Credit: Quadra Pi R2E

WASHINGTON — NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced plans Nov. 19 to work with two companies to develop a constellation of satellite sensors to provide early detection of wildfires.

The FireSat system would host more than 200 thermal-infrared imaging sensors on satellites in low Earth orbit. The sensors are designed to detect fires as small as 10 to 15 meters across on the ground within 15 minutes of their ignition, giving firefighters the ability to respond before they burn out of control.

JPL has been working on the FireSat concept since 2011. “Such a system has only now become feasible at a reasonable cost, enabled by advances in commercial microelectronics that NASA, JPL and universities have tested in space,” Robert Staehle, lead designer for FireSat at JPL, said in a statement.

JPL will support Quadra Pi R2E, a San Francisco-based startup, in the design, demonstration and development of the proposed sensor constellation. The sensors will be manufactured by Ecliptic Enterprises of Pasadena, California.

JPL and the companies did not disclose what satellites will ultimately host the sensors, but did say they expect to have a fully operational system in place by June 2018. Quadra stated on its website that the project is expected to cost $30 million, and will be financed through nongovernment grants, investment funds and debt.