European Space Agency



The combined use of space technologies provides a new perspective in the management of large event situations or natural disasters. ESA's REMSAT concept is being applied in Spain in the framework of the REMFIRESAT contract. The objective of REMFIRESAT is to demonstrate the use of satellite technologies in an emergency situation such as uncontrolled wildfire's.

The system, designed following a user driven approach, is to be validated though a comprehensive pilot demonstration that will check the benefits of the application under real crisis situations.

The main satellite technologies to be exploited in the REMFIRESAT system are:

  • Satellite communications: providing global coverage, portable terminals, and wide bandwidth capabilities - the last having become, very affordable in the last few years.

  • Navigation systems based on satellite assets: like the popular GPS; the decision maker can make an exact determination of the position of their resources.

  • Earth Observation from space: demonstrated to be a very powerful tool for the management of disasters and other large event situations.

The satellite systems will work in a synergetic manner with the ground facilities, reaching a more efficient utilisation of available technology.

The initial REMFIRESAT concept envisages handheld terminals, vehicle terminals, a set of Command Centres at user premises and a mobile satellite communication centre to be located close to the fire.

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  • Space-based system developed on a user-driven basis

  • Combination of different space technologies (comm, nav and EO)

  • Pre-operational system

  • High bandwidth communication through VSAT antennae

  • Real time processing for dedicated product, multi-satellite data fusion

  • GPS navigation linked to short message sat communicators

  • DDGIS (Distributed Dynamic Geographical Information System)

  • System addresses all levels of decision making chain


  • All phases of crisis addressed by the single system

  • Real time positioning of resources, improving safety and usage efficiency

  • High bandwidth available at the field, improving decision making at the most critical point, the manager of the emergency

  • Near realtime Earth Observation products, fully customised for the purpose of the emergency management: fire index, hot spot maps, damage assessments, weather forecasts and fireline propagators.

  • Integration with existing databases, reducing manual intervention and updates and allowing involved actors to work with common data sources

  • Independent assessment of damage, homogenising methods and data presentation

  • Easily exportable to the management of other emergencies and large events

  • Easy and comprehensive activity reporting


Space technology can offer high value information to managers throughout the decision-making chain, from a high-level manager to an in-field fire-fighter.

The goal is to provide the communication lines with the ability to transfer information from the sources to the location of the managers in a hierarchical and processed manner. Apart from conventional voice and fax capabilities, the information which needs to be dealt with includes: digital data, imagery and positioning of capabilities.

The figure below sketches the architecture of the REMFIRESAT system. The different bodies involved are equipped with data gathering terminals or computers and the appropriate communication equipment to form the system network through which the voice and digital data are transferred. Some of the REMFIRESAT features are already present or have equivalent performance to current resources. For those cases, REMFIRESAT will be fully compatible with those existing systems.

Apart from being a voice-based system, REMFIRESAT will provide positioning information for all mobiles. This short data is usually transferred by using short messages that can also be used to communicate standard sentences, panic buttons, etc. The third new feature is extensive utilisation of remote sensing data, which is embedded in the system through a dedicated processing centre, the 'External Data Gateway' (EDG).

The REMFIRESAT system is to be present at all scales in the fire-fighting structures. This implies installing equipment at user premises, air and ground vehicles and even portable terminals.

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The system is being developed in the province of Salamanca, in the Castilla y León region of Spain, and will be carried out in several phases:

  • User requirements, system concept, trade-off analysis and system definition: carried out during first semester of 2002

  • Concept Proof Test: involving a representative part of the system, was successfully run in Jan 2003

  • System Commissioning: delivery of full deployed system, to be completed by first week of April 2003

  • Demos on prescribe fires: planned for several days of Apr 2003, demonstrate the performance of the system when a real fire is present.

  • Operation during fire campaign: the system will be operated by the users to obtain feedback and propose future improvements.

The project is planned to end around Oct 2003.

Current status

During summer 2003, the forest-fire services of the Spanish region of Castilla y León were the pilot users of the REMFIRESAT experience, a system whose aim was to demonstrate how space technology can be used and help users in forest-fire fighting activities. The pilot demonstration was a success, and the environmental services of Junta de Castilla y León expressed their intention to continue with the programme.

In 2004, general elections were celebrated in Spain, and some members of the head staff of national and regional forest-fire services were substituted by new people. Contrary to what can be though, instead of stopping the programme, the new managers wanted to continue with the experience, to test it further.

On 30th July, REMFIRESAT re-started, and it will continue its operation until the fire season end, 30th September. This year's main objectives are:

  • Continuing with the tasks related with Earth Observation applied to fire management

  • Consolidation of the activities related to fleet and resource management

  • Detection of new user necessities in order to develop new services

Pilot demonstration executed in 2003 was an effective training for the forest fire fighting services, especially for the fire-fighting staff, not familiarised with these kind of technology. This year, the utilisation of all provided means have increased notably, particularly communication and navigation features, due to the advantages these means offer to the usual activity:

  • REMFIRESAT Hand Held Terminals type I (HHT1, satellite phones) are carried by patrolling brigades to be able to report an event as quickly as possible in the case of lack of radio coverage. Forest services of the province of Salamanca had expressed their will of acquire more HHT1 to increase the number of patrolling brigades and fire fighting units equipped with them.

  • REMFIRESAT Remote Vehicle Terminals (RVT, ORBCOMM communicators) have been used extensively not only to locate water pump trucks, but to perimeter burnt areas, to locate approximately fire fronts and to determine precisely response times of the forest fire forces. This last activity has revealed as a worthy tool to increase the effectiveness of fire fighting forces.

  • The e-mail service included in the REMFIRESAT RVTs is being used specially in the case of numerical information to be transmitted (estimations of distance based on GPS locations, for example).

REMFIRESAT Command Centres are, the same way as during the demonstration process, the nodes where the communication through these means is received, processed and showed to the operators there. One of the advantages of the system, was the possibility of immediate data actualisation, which introduces the possibility of higher levels of the hierarchy to help in the management decisions, as they have a global view of the situation.

In the Earth Observation chapter, a more nearly operational service was deliver over the basis of MODIS (TERRA and AQUA satellites) and SEVIRI (MSG) sensors. New products and improvements in the service have been included:

  • Hot spot maps generated up to four times a day (day and night) based on MODIS satellites. Possibility of hot spot map generation using AVHRR under request

  • Cloud state and evolution every 15 minutes using MSG-SEVIRI

  • Burnt area monitoring based on MODIS, performed under request, only for big fires.

  • Power fire product, based on MODIS, showing the fire power for each hot spot detected

The same way as in the pilot demonstration, these Earth Observation products are downloaded from the External Data Gateway (EDG). The EDG is currently being used in other ESA initiative, the NOD project ('Nearly Operational Demonstration of Space Technology for Fire Risk Management'). This demonstration has a preliminary phase in which currently existing infrastructure must be used to provide products and services, but although the EDG is used, no other usage of any of the REMFIRESAT modules is considered.

Current results are still being collected, but preliminary results can be offered over the basis of the official data collected from 30th June to 18th August.

Table 1: Hot Spot result (current available data)

Total Hot Spots

Valid Hot Spots

Possible Hot Spots

Not validated (possible hot
spots and false alarms)


45 (67.15 %)

9 (13.43 %)

13 (19.42 %)

Figure 1: Burnt Area map over
Fonfría (Zamora)
Figure 2: Map of clouds over
Castilla y León (MSG)

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Forest fire operators are glad of REMFIRESAT operation, and no errors have been detected at the present moment in its operation. Nevertheless, compilation information is being done in order to find services useful for the operators as well as to improve current existing ones.

Status date

Monday, June 29, 2009 - 12:39