Airbus Defence and Space

Satellites: standing to attention

Collected and processed in record time, satellite data take the form of precious indicators on which rescue workers are able to base their disaster response efforts.

24 August, 2009: an inferno is threatening Athens. Unprecedented wildfire sees the Greek region of Attica go up in flames. The populations of numerous towns must be evacuated as a matter of urgency. It is impossible to distinguish the accessible routes from the roads blocked by flames. Only one solution: the reorientation of certain satellites from their current observation positions to home in on the affected zone without delay.

Satellites are increasingly called upon for emergency missions like this. In Greece, the Airbus Defence and Space-developed satellite Envisat was able to rapidly provide the authorities with information that proved vital to rescuing the populations at risk. The firefighters were quite literally guided from space, with reliable data at their disposal, updated in real time, for organising their plan of action.

Even more recently in Haiti, several satellites focused on the zone struck by the earthquake as soon as the disaster hit. In such a situation where every passing minute can mean another life lost, the speed of analysis and reaction is crucial. This is precisely why the scientific community and space industry united their efforts to turn their tools of observation towards the devastated area, called to action by the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters.

Effective collaboration: as was the case for Greece during the fires of 2009, or Indonesia in the wake of the tsunami in December 2004, high resolution imagery clearly showed the damage sustained by Haitian infrastructure only a few hours after the earthquake had hit. Collected and processed in record time, the data took the form of precious indicators on which the rescue workers were able to base their disaster response efforts.