Cool thinking by an Australian defence scientist while a bushfire bore down on his family home provided first responders with clearer satellite images of the blaze, and likely prevented further devastation.
The Sampson Flat bushfires in South Australia claimed the lives of around 900 animals, destroying 27 houses along with other property in January 2015.
Chris Ekins evacuated his family, but while preparing to protect their home he heard on local ABC radio that aircraft were having difficulty seeing through the smoke.
A communication ‘heartbeat’ has helped narrow the search area for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. The flight disappeared in March 2014 with 239 people on board.
“Essentially we’ve had to develop, and measure the accuracy of, a way to use the extra data collected during the satellite communication,” says Dr Neil Gordon, Head of Data and Information Fusion at the Defence Science and Technology Group in Australia.
“The main communication data is a ‘heartbeat’ signal every hour, asking the aircraft ‘are you there?’ When it says ‘yes,’ a little bit of information attached to that message is captured, giving hints on the speed and direction the plane is travelling, and the distance between the satellite and the aircraft,” Neil says.
A new breed of spacecraft engine is undergoing its first indoor test flights, thanks to a giant ‘wombat’ on the outskirts of Australia’s capital.
The Australian National University has developed a plasma thruster that uses electricity to ionise gas and produce thrust, allowing the engine to run for longer and with much less fuel than a chemical rocket.
This makes it ideal for manoeuvring satellites in orbit, or for extended voyages to places like Mars. However, rocket manufacturers need to be sure it works before trusting it on multimillion-dollar satellites.
The extreme weather conditions that can turn an already dangerous bushfire into an explosive firestorm can now be better predicted, thanks to the work of a 30-year veteran of the Bureau of Meteorology.