High-Resolution Thermal Satellite Takes Earth’s Temperature

Las Vegas
Thermal hot spots in Las Vegas, many of the peaks are car parks.

A new high-resolution thermal satellite camera has beamed back its first set of spectacular images.

The recently launched HOTSAT-1 captures thermal images from space revealing the planet’s surface temperature in never-before-seen detail. It can show temperature differences down to a resolution of 33 feet, according to Space.

The camera can also capture short video sequences and one of them shows the thermal signature of a train as it rolls through Chicago.

One of the images captured by HOTSAT-1 shows the thermal footprint of a wildfire that hit Canada’s Northwest Territories in June and the hope is that the data will help firefighters monitor how fires advance on the landscape.

This July 27 image shows active wildfire fronts in Canada’s Northwest Territories.
Darwin, Australia
A harbor in Darwin, Australia.

HOTSAT-1 is operated by British company SatVu which plans to launch seven additional spacecraft that will not only increase the volume of data but also detect thermal changes in a scene more rapidly.

“Thermal imaging has been done for decades by scientific missions like NASA’s Landsat and the European Sentinel satellites,” says Satvu’s chief technical officer and co-founder, Tobias Reinicke.

“But these satellites are only collecting thermal data at a very coarse resolution — 100 meters, 500 meters, or 1,000 meters [330 feet, 1,650 feet or 3,300 feet]. There’s not been a commercial mission that is capturing data under 10 meters [33 feet] in the thermal spectrum.”

Cushing, Oklahoma.
Cushing in Oklahoma is known as the “Pipeline Crossroads of the World.” Cushing has scores of oil storage tanks seen here as circular dots.

Analyzing temperature differences on the Earth’s surface in high resolution will help city planners gain a better understanding of how heat escapes from roads, buildings, and industrial areas. The hope is that it will lead to more energy-efficient infrastructure.

Most satellites observe Earth in visible light, i.e. the same wavelengths that humans see with their eyes. The HOTSAT-1 satellite detects heat which is essentially infrared light, a far longer wavelength which presents a challenge.

“You need a slow shutter,” Reinecke tells Space. “Effectively a longer exposure. But because our satellites travel through space at a speed of 7 kilometers per second [4.4 miles per second], we need to be able to carefully point the satellite; otherwise, the images would be blurry.”