One of our students has won an international aerospace ideas competition which was awarded late last month in Bulgaria.

Himmat Panag, who is enrolled in a B Engineering (Aerospace)/B Science (Mathematics), took out first place in the 4th Mission Idea Contest alongside fellow UNSW students Siddharth Doshi (B Engineering/M Engineering) and David Lam (B Engineering - Mechanical). Himmat is an outstanding student who received our School's Prize for Level 3 Applied Mathematics in 2015.

The UNSW students' project, Cubesat constellation for monitoring and detection of bushfires in Australia, proposed detecting and monitoring bushfires using a constellation of CubeSats - small satellites slightly larger than a shoe box.

The students conceived of the project after speaking to fire analysts at the Queensland and ACT emergency services.

Of their project, the three students said: "The focus for us was always on creating a proposal which could actually be implemented, so it was important to not only design the system to be technically feasible, but also to make sure it actually met the needs required for it be useful for fire services. We're looking to some prototyping of the imaging payload and hopefully later down the track to take this further and implement it.

"The competition itself was a great platform to meet other students and researchers at the competition and exchange ideas, as well as to get feedback from leaders in the field of small satellites."

Funding was provided by the School of Mathematics and Statistics and the Faculty of Engineering to enable the students to travel to the conference. A very big congratulations to Himmat, David and Siddharth for such a wonderful achievement and their brilliant innovative project.

More about the project:

Australia has experienced some of the largest bushfires in recorded history, and recent years show fire seasons becoming increasingly more intense due to the effects of global warming. Australian communities are particularly vulnerable to their effects - our towns and cities are surrounded by the bush. The 2009 Black Saturday fires alone caused 173 deaths and an estimated $4.4 billion in economic damage. 

Detecting bushfires using satellites could help prevent such major catastrophes, but images from big weather satellites either do not have a high enough resolution to pinpoint fires or they don't come frequently enough to fight fires in real time. The satellite design proposed allows you to achieve a resolution of less than 100 metres using infra-red imaging technology that can fit into a shoe box. Since CubeSats are relatively cheap to launch, many of them, flying over Australia one after the other, can be used to get frequently updated images (in our case, with a revisit time of less than 30 minutes).

A system which can be used to detect small fires before they spread and monitor with a quick revisit time between images time doesn't exist, but would have huge benefits. The students realised technology had advanced to the point that it was feasible to do this using many small satellites, something which wouldn't have been possible just a few years ago.

With enough satellites, it could be possible to detect small fires before they grow and become uncontrollable, while also helping fire agencies fight them by providing important information about their location and direction. 

(Pictured L-R: Siddharth Doshi, David Lam and Himmat Panag, in Bulgaria)